Sunday, 15 June 2014

Lightning Safety 101

At any given second, lightning is striking the earth somewhere, nearly 2000 thunderstorms are active around the earth every minute! Lightning is responsible for numerous deaths and injuries, and tons of damage to homes, electrical devises and power grids. Numerous fires are also started by lightning.

First of all, there is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm, your best defense, get inside. While your chances of being struck by lightning are slim, 10 Canadians pay the ultimate price for that gamble in an average year. Another 150 to 160 are injured, some with injuries that will stay with them for life. The average bolt of lightning contains enough energy, 300 million volts in a typical flash of lightning, to light a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for about three months. The air displaced by lightning is heated to a temperature 5 times that of the sun, nearly 28,000C, (50,000F) enough to melt car tires and burn skin. If you are stuck outside, get as low as you can, make yourself as small as possible.

I took this picture near my home in Kemptville, Ontario back in 2009. Lightning occurs quickly and is one of the top weather killers in North America. (ValleyWX Photo)
One of the myths about lightning is that it never strikes the same place twice. Note that the Empire State building in New York City is struck an average of more than 100 times each year. Rule number one, lightning likes tall objects, stay away from trees. Most deaths across North America are from those who seek shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm, it is one of the worst places you can be. Another is anywhere on or near water. Head ashore as soon as threatening weather approaches. You should always know the risk of thunderstorms when boating or at the beach. Keep a weatheradio with you at all times, they are cheap and could be a lifesaver, or download one of the may weather applications for your smartphone.

Lightning can strike more than 5km from the parent storm, so as soon as you hear thunder, head indoors. Refrain from outdoor activities such as swimming, soccer or golfing for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder occurs. A recent study by Environment Canada indicated that as little as 3-5% of individuals injured or killed by lightning in Canada are by a direct hit. Most occur by ground current (40-50%) or side flash (20-30%). That is why it is so important to refrain from using electrical appliances such as phones or computers that are hardwired directly to your home. Cordless items are fine to use. 

You are relatively safe inside a car, however if a car is directly hit, significant damage, including fire and blown out windows can occur. Just last week a couple from Tofield, Alberta had their truck struck by lighting. The vehicle became engulfed in a fireball and filled with smoke. It rolled to a stop with the electrical system destroyed. They were rescued by a passing RCMP officer. I posted a still image above taken form a nearby security camera.

Another myth, is that people struck can't be touched. A person struck by lightning is safe to handle immediately, they may need CPR or other medical attention. 

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