A series of fast-moving thunderstorms struck San Diego County on Tuesday, the worst of which sent a bolt of lightning into a tomato field in Carlsbad, injuring six men standing nearby next to catering trucks which were serving a group of farm workers.
Two workers for the catering firm, Camarena Catering of Vista, were taken by Life Flight to the burn unit at UC San Diego Medical Center, where a nursing supervisor reported the men were in fair condition following a series of tests late Tuesday evening. She identified the two men as Armando Leyva, 37, and Florencio Pineda, 29.
Four farm workers were less seriously injured by the nearby bolt and were taken by ambulance to North County hospitals. Cladio Hernandz and Hugo Macarro were in stable condition at Tri-City Hospital in Oceanside and were being observed in the emergency room, a spokeswoman said.
At Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, the other two workers were released Tuesday evening following treatment for minor injuries. A nurse said she was not allowed to identify the men, whom she said were standing on wet ground when current from the lightning hit them.
The late afternoon thunderstorm in Carlsbad was the most spectacular of several which rolled across both coastal and inland areas throughout early evening. Slight amounts of rainfall were posted in coastal and inland valley areas, ranging from 0.09 inch in Escondido and 0.02 in Point Loma, with a trace recorded officially by the National Weather Service at Lindbergh Field. Mt. Laguna reported 1.55 inches during an hourlong drenching that included marble-sized hailstorms, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Atkin reported.
Neither the California Highway Patrol nor the California Department of Forestry reported major weather-related problems. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. encountered isolated power outrages during the day, the most serious of which affected several hundred houses in the Oceanside area for about half an hour, a spokesman said.
Atkin said that the thunderstorms, normally confined to mountain and desert areas during the summer, drifted to coastal areas as a result of an upper-level low-pressure system offshore that allowed tropical air from the south to be pumped along the Southern California coastline. A flash flood watch for mountain and desert areas continued into the late evening Tuesday.
Witnesses in Carlsbad said the lightning struck close to the catering trucks serving food to about 10 people. The trucks were in a field about 500 feet from a series of packing sheds owned by the Carlsbad Tomato Co., off Palomar Airport Road about half a mile east of Interstate 5.
None of the injured had visible injuries, according to Joe Marrotte, a foreman for the tomato company, but several complained of pain in the legs. Leyva and Pineda were unable to walk because of the pain, Marrotte said.
"It looked like they were red, like someone beat them with a belt," Marrotte said.
Workers at the packing plant used pickup trucks to carry the men to shelter until medical help arrived.
"Everyone heard this big bang, like an explosion," Marrotte said. "Nobody realized it had hit nearby until some boys ran in yelling for help." Marrotte said there were no marks on the ground to indicate that lightning had struck.
"It sounded like the world was caving in," said Jim Grasso, a supervisor at Giumurra of Carlsbad, a sales firm that sells produce at the packing shed site. "It was so bad it was like my head was caving in between my shoulders."
Forecaster Atkin of the National Weather Service said that the upper-level low pressure system offshore allowed air to circulate counterclockwise, causing a southerly flow over the county and bringing up tropical moisture from Mexico over the coastal region.
"None of it is really unusual for this time of year," Atkin said. "It's not unusual at all to get thunderstorms in the mountains and deserts and for the coast, it is not common but it happens (occasionally) almost every summer.
"Most of the heavy showers were in the mountains, which again is normal."
Atkin said that a high-pressure system usually sits off the coast and brings an onshore wind, keeping thunderstorms well inland.
The weather service is predicting a few continued showers in the mountains today with mostly sunny weather along the coast. Atkin said the upper-level low pressure is moving to the northwest and will weaken as high pressure builds off the coast during the next several days.
Times staff writers Eric Bailey and Kathie Bozanich contributed to this story.
SAN DIEGO RAINFALL (Rainfall figures are for the 24 hours ending at 4 p.m. at weather stations that reported more than a trace of rain.) Escondido. . . . . .0.09 Miramar . . . . . . 0.05 Mt. Laguna . . . . .1.55 Point Loma . . . . 0.02 Poway . . . . . . . 0.03 Ramona . . . . . . 0.03