A storm does not have to be severe to be damaging or deadly. Even though some houses have been struck by blots resulting in fires, it provides more protection than being outside. Often a deadly bolt will strike before the first drop of rain. This image here was just minutes after a high school baseball game was cancelled in Westminster, MD (April 2015). The slide show below has more compelling images to dispel the myth of where bolts hit and why to be overly prudent. Please also watch the video at the bottom of this post. Hopefully it will prove the point that lightning doesn’t only strike the highest object. However, some places like the Empire State Building get hit 100 times each year.
Thunderstorms can strike in any month, but peak during the summer.
One bolt of lightning is as thick as a pencil, but five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The split second of 60,000°F heat can do more than just burn, it can boil the water inside a tree causing it to explode. See the impressive image in the slide show. So rule number 1: Don’t go under a tree!
That flash of lightning usually lasts about 0.2 seconds long and contains about one gigavolt or 1 billion volts. When a person gets struck by lightning, it is often a diluted ‘side flash’ after first striking another object. So rule number 2: Don’t go under a tree!
When Thunder Roars Go Indoors. That is national campaign on lightning safety in hopes to educate the public about the dangers of being outdoors with a thunderstorm nearby. When the campaign started in 2001 the average annual lightning deaths in the US was 73. Since 2008, almost every year has had the number drop to less than 30, but more than 300 are injured. Compare that to tornadoes (57), and hurricanes (48). Learning the basics, following a few simple rules, and being smart can keep you safe.
The 30/30 rule has been the most effective way to get most people to remember the basic safety with a storm. This is part of a safety card I hand out at every school assembly I run (Wind for Change), and one of the reasons my son and I developed Kid Weather App. Most people do not get injured (or worse) during the peak of a storm. Most people do not want to be outside in the middle of it. However, before and after a storm are the times when most strikes take place.
Lighting can strike up to 6-10 miles away from a storm as you can see in the slide show. The storm clouds may not be overhead and you could get a hit. This is known as ‘bolt from the blue’. Check out the image in the slide show.
Counting: Considering that sound travels slower than light- every 5 second after a flash to the ‘boom’ means the bolt was roughly 1 mile away. So 30 seconds would give you a 6 mile warning from a nearby strike.
Since lightning can strike after a storm passes as well, or a second storm may follow, it is best to wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard.
When outside: Seek shelter immediately. However this may not always be possible. A car is one of the safest placesto be during a thunderstorm. Assuming you are not near tall trees that can get knocked on you. It has nothing to do with the rubber tires, but the metal the car is made of. This will conduct electricity away from the inside of the vehicle in most cases. So long as nothing is hanging outside the car, this should suffice.
If you are in an open field and can’t get to safety in time, check out this video link. There is a great demonstration of how to crouch down properly.
When inside: Staying away from windows might be tough for the weather buff. But lighting can make a secondary strike from a tree or pole outside. It can also strike a tree and knock it into the house, along with flying debris from strong winds.
Staying off of the telephone may seem antiquated since most phones are cordless. But any electronic device can attract a stray bolt of electricity. Besides, if a nearby phone line is hit, the sound and static could blow out an eardrum.
Computers- best if they are shut down or disconnected. Any power line hit could overload a surge protector. They are effective, but not 100% certain if there is a direct hit to your house.
No showers or baths. Metal pipes can carry electricity. Think of the classic toaster in the tub horror movie. Yeah, stay out of the bathroom, even if the storm is scaring the (you know what) out of you. The only exception would be to protect yourself from a nearby tornado, but that is for another discussion.
100% of lightning deaths occur outdoors
…Or so says the National Weather Service. There are the rare occasions when someone inside can be affected by lightning indoors. If lightning strikes a power or telephone line, it could potentially enter your house. A strike of a tree next to your home or the home itself is another way for it to enter your home. One inside, it will take the path of least resistance until grounded. That may include anything electrical or metal. So while a cordless telephone might be safe, your computer is not. Also, your pipes are made of metal. So taking a shower or bath places you in risk of danger.
Of the victims who were killed by lightning:
100% outside 85% male 36% males between the ages of 20-25 32% under a tree 29% on or near the water
Important Safety Video
Tornado Safety: What NOT to do
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