ebonypearl (ebonypearl) wrote,

Lightning Safety

This article about lightning is a very good start on why we need to be wary of lightning strikes.

Personal anecdote-wise, I have a friend whose father has been struck 3 times by lightning. All three times, he was using the bathroom and struck inside his own home. Bathrooms are generally placed on the outside of a home, with windows, and there's all that lovely conductive plumbing in there if the home is older. My house (until I paid to have it all replaced) had cast iron, copper, and steel plumbing. Now, it's all PVC stuff that isn't conductive. Same with my friend's father's house - they finally figured out it was the metal plumbing that was attracting the lightning and had it all replaced, too.

Obviously, my friend's father survived the strikes, but he lost fingers, his hearing, and lots of skin to 3rd degree burns.

And he was INSIDE when he was struck.

The NOAA has a page about lightning safety. I'm not sure why a building with electricity and plumbing is safer than a substantial building without those utilities. Given my friend's father's experience, though, I'm glad to see NOAA say to stay away from plumbing during a lightning storm.

There have been 14 lightning deaths this year, with 6 in this month alone (today's the last day of July, and it looks stormy today, so there could be more before the day's done).

There's this video on lightning that's informative. And here's one from the Yankees/Red Sox game.

The National Lightning Safety Institute has this to say about lightning safety.

National Geographic also has a few things to add to the lightning safety discussion.

Accuweather has a good article on the dangers of lightning to help you understand just how important it is to pay attention and take precautions.

FEMA also has a good site with lightning information.

Lightning deaths have decreased because we're getting smarter about dealing with it. In fact, thunderstorms are the only thing that will close down the OU Medieval Fair - high winds, ice, snow, torrential rain, mud, heat - none of those will close the Fair, but the threat of lightning closes it in a heartbeat.

The thing is, lightning can kill even if there's no apparent rain - and it can kill from miles away, ten or more miles. And it can kill indirectly, too, as the current travels through the ground. You don't have to be directly struck by lightning to die from it.

Injuries from lightning can be very severe and lifelong. It can cause the obvious injuries of severe burns, and less obvious brain damage. It can destroy hearing, alter personalities, cause PTSD, and other health issues. People wearing pacemakers may need cardiac assistance and replacement of the pacemaker.

What it all boils down to is that lightning deaths and injuries can be greatly reduced or even eliminated if we take a few simple precautions.

If you hear thunder but don't see the lightning, you are still at risk. You don't have to see lightning to be effected by it, because it can strike and travel through the ground for a ways.

If you can see lightning, you are at immediate risk and need to take appropriate precautions instantly.

These precautions include getting to a safe place.

Picnic shelters, sports dugouts, tents, sheds, covered porches, and other small buildings are not safe - especially not those concrete camp shower buildings. Find a larger building, one with substantial walls and roof. Stay away from the windows and avoid using electrical appliances or plumbing (no washing dishes or taking showers or using the bathroom). If it's a concrete building (say a storm shelter at a camp ground or highway rest stop), stay well away from the walls. Most thunderstorms only last about an hour (that includes the half hour of wait time afterwards to give the storm time to get far enough away that lightning can't reach back), so it shouldn't be too hard to stay away from the walls.

Inside a house, draw the blinds or curtains. If you have storm shutters, shut those. Stay away from windows and plumbing. In fact, avoid bathrooms and kitchens altogether during a lightning storm. Avoid using electrical appliances - toasters, ovens, coffee pots, plugged in computers, land lines, TVs, and hair dryers. You can use cell phones,

The lesson here is to get all the way inside a large, sturdy building, far from windows and plumbing.

If you're driving, pull over and stay inside the car if it's a hard top car. Don't touch anything metallic - lean away from the doors, remove the seat belt (you're stopped and the car is turned off - seat belts are connected to the frame of the car and might conduct lightning over the short span to you), and don't touch anything that touches the frame of the car, or the electric system of the car (power windows, power locks, the ignition keys, the radio knobs...) and could conduct the lightning strike to you. There's a chance, if your car is directly hit by lightning, that you will be injured, but you should survive it.

It is not the rubber tires that protect you, it's the fact that the lightning is absorbed by the metal frame of the car and bends the power of the lightning around and away from you. Staying inside the car and away from the frame and the electric system of the car will prevent the lightning from hitting you directly.

If you are outside (hiking, mountain climbing, canoeing, chopping wood, weeding...), seek shelter. On water, get to shore and out of the water as quickly as possible, and then to shelter.

If there is no shelter, seek the lowest ground possible away from hilltops, lone tall trees, and still high enough to keep you from getting caught in a flash flood (more people die from flash floods than lightning strikes, but even one preventable death is one too many, especially if it's yours). If there is a grove of small trees or shrubs in a low lying area, the roots will absorb some of the lightning current, as long as they aren't the tallest growth around.

If there is no other option, remove all metal objects - keys, rings, earrings, piercings, watch, glasses and place them at least 15 feet away from you and any other living person, move at least 15 feet away from other people, then crouch as low as you can, cover your ears, close your eyes, and balance on the balls of your feet, making yourself as small a target as possible with the least contact with the ground as you can. If you are wearing synthetic fiber clothing, remove what you can because if you are struck, either indirectly or directly, synthetic clothing will cause worse burns.

Signs that lightning is about to strike:

Your hair will stand on end
Your skin will tingle
Any metal you are wearing will vibrate and hum (what, you're still wearing metal? Get it off! Quick!)

Most deaths from lightning occur before or after the storm arrives - lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm itself. Take precautions as soon as you notice the storm (hear thunder or see the flash of lightning). Wait until 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder to resume normal activities - the storm will then be more than 10 miles away.

Be safe. Burns are the most painful injury, and the bulk of injuries from a lightning strike are burns.

If someone with you is struck by lightning, call 911 immediately and if necessary (and you're trained - you ARE trained, right?), apply proper first aid and/or resuscitation efforts. If possible, place a protective layer of blankets between the victim and the ground and if it's still raining, something to keep the rain off. Be aware of shock and treat for that.

If you are struck by lightning, hope there is someone near to provide first aid and call 911 for you. Me, I'd call 911 and let them know where I was if I was out alone, or call someone to let them know so they could send help as soon as possible if I don't call back within a set time.

Stay safe!
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