A Shocking Experience – Lightning Safety
Post by: Gina Stone
In my monsoon safety post “Haboob is Not a Dirty Word” I told you about my experience almost getting hit by lightning. In honor of Lightning Awareness week (June 19 to 25th), I’ve been reviewing some of the mistakes I made that day, and what I could have done to keep myself safe.
NWS (National Weather Service) holds the “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” campaign. Well, there was the first “no-no” - I was actively seeking out the thunderstorms.
Some lightning facts:
- The temperature of a lightning flash is 15,000 to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hotter than the surface of the sun (9,000 degrees Fahrenheit)
- A single lightning flash carries an electric current as high as 300,000 amperes. For comparison, electrical wiring in a house carries 20 or 30 amperes
- Lightning is caused by the same principals as shuffling your feet along carpet to create a static electricity charge.
My second mistake was getting out of the truck. Your hard topped car provides good shelter if you are caught outside in a thunderstorm (convertibles, motorcycles, golf carts and scooters are a no-no in thunderstorms). Rain shelters, sheds, overhangs, tents, carports and the like do not provide any kind of protection except from the wet stuff falling from the sky. The electricity from a lightning strike can travel through the ground, or other conduit and cause great bodily harm, if not death.
My friends in Colorado have a small farm they’ve been working on building over the years. Last year, one of them earned the nickname of “Sparky”. They had some thunderstorms rolling into the area, not even anything severe, and Sparky needed to finish up some work on the chicken coop and some fencing up for the goats. He had his hand on the chain link fence, and a bolt of lightning struck a tree nearby. The charge was close enough it traveled to and through the fence, and up his arm. He suffered some burns, but all in all was very fortunate. No heart, brain or other organ damage, just a strange tale to tell, and an awesome, lucky nickname. According to the NWS, lightning kills an average of 55 people a year. In 2011, there has been 5 deaths reported so far, and summer is the peak season for lightning and it’s related injuries.
Also, remember water attracts electricity really, really well. Stay out of the pool, lakes, ocean – any body of water until the thunderstorm passes.
If you witness someone struck by lightning, this is a life threatening emergency. Call 911 even if they say they feel fine. Don’t worry about being shocked if you touch them, they do not carry a charge. If they are unconscious, perform first aid (check the ABC’s – airway, breathing and circulation, and check for burns, especially on extremities such as soles of the feet) and perform CPR as necessary until help arrives.
How far away was that lightning?
The sound of thunder travels about a mile every 5 seconds. If you count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder and divided by 5, you get the number of miles away from you (10 seconds is 2 miles).– NWS Lightning Safety
Lightning out of the clear blue
Lightning can reach about 10 miles from its originating storm cloud. Stay weather aware, and have your portable weather radio with you if you are planning outdoor activities. Remember stay indoors 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder. Summer is the time of outdoor activities — camping, parks, concerts, sporting events (participants and audience) – be sure you have your plan in place to seek safe shelter if storms are forecast.
Did you know?
Florida is the unconfirmed golf cart capital of the United States, and the confirmed Lightning capital of the U.S. Remember golf clubs are nothing more than lightning rods in a thunderstorm.