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Lightning Safety

Ten Tips For Staying Safe During a Lightning Storm

A single stroke of lightning has 125,000,000 volts of electricity. That’s enough power to light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months, or enough to seriously hurt or to kill someone. Lightning is something you should not be careless around. Lightning kills more people on an annual basis than tornadoes, hurricanes or winter storms. It is second only to flash floods in the annual number of deaths caused by storm-related hazards.  Damage costs from lightning are estimated at $4-5 billion each year in the U.S.  Around the earth there are 100 lightning strikes per second, or 8,640,00 times a day.

If your hair stands up in a storm, it could be a bad sign that positive charges are rising through you, reaching toward the negatively charged part of the storm. That’s not a good sign! Your best bet is to get yourself immediately indoors.

When you see lightning, please follow these safety rules:

1. Stay or go indoors! If you hear thunder, don’t go outside unless absolutely necessary ( or a storm chaser like me ;-). Remember, by counting the seconds between the flash and the thunder and dividing by 5, you can estimate your distance from the strike (in miles).   If you hear the roar… go indoors! Use the 30-30 rule, when visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within six miles (ten kilometers) of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.  The threat of lightning continues for a much longer period than most people realize. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. Don’t be fooled by sunshine or blue sky!

2.  Stay away from anything that could conduct electricity. This includes fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks, and phones. There are three main ways lightning enters homes and buildings: a direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure and into the ground. Regardless of the method of entrance, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio or television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Do not lie on the concrete floor of a garage as it likely contains a wire mesh. In general, basements are a safe place to go during thunderstorms. However, avoid contact with concrete walls, which may contain metal reinforcing bars.

Avoid washers and dryers, since they not only have contacts with the plumbing and electrical systems but also contain an electrical path to the outside through the dryer vent.  Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.

Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry.

3. Don’t use any plug-in electrical appliances like hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, or electric razors. If lightning strikes your house they can conduct the charge to you.

4. Don’t use the telephone during the storm. Lightning may strike telephone lines outside. Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States. Lightning can travel long distances in both phone and electrical wires, particularly in rural areas.

5. Stay in your automobile if you are traveling. Automobiles give you excellent lightning protection. A motor car with a metal top can offer you protection—but keep your hands away from the metal sides.

6. Don’t use metal objects outside, like fishing rods and golf clubs. Golfers wearing cleated shoes are really good lightning rods. An umbrella can increase your chances of being struck by lightning if it makes you the tallest object in the area.

7. Get out of the water. This includes getting off small boats on the water. People on or in or near water are among those most at risk during thunderstorms. Swimming is particularly dangerous, as not only do swimmers protrude from the water, presenting a potential channel for electrical discharge, but also because water is a good conductor of electricity.

8. If you’re outdoors, seek shelter from lightning! Buildings are best for shelter, but if no buildings are available, you can find protection in a cave, ditch, or a canyon. Trees are not good cover! Tall trees attract lightning.  A house or other substantial building offers the best protection from lightning.

9. If you can’t find shelter, always avoid the tallest or being the tallest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, your best protection is to crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from isolated trees as the trees are high. Avoid being near a lightning rod or standing near metal objects such as a fence or underground pipes.

10. When you feel the electrical charge — if your hair stands on end or your skin tingles — lightning may be about to strike you. Drop to the ground immediately!

Lightning lady

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