By Dave Williams for Island Eye News
I can watch hurricanes for days on satellites orbiting the earth. I can even track tornadoes on Doppler radar. The one thing you cannot foretell is where that next lightning strike is going to connect between the cloud and the earth.
Let’s start with the basics, a lightning strike is just a big electrical circuit, the same as when you flip a light switch, thus closing the path and allowing current to flow freely.
Lightning does not simply strike down from a cloud, or travel up from the ground, it is a combination of the two.
Due to the collision of ice and water droplets in a thunderstorm cloud, friction occurs and an electrical charge is generated.
The cloud becomes charged with a positive end and a negative end, just like a giant D cell battery in the sky.
A charge called a “stepped leader” is drawn down from the cloud and also up from the ground, usually emanating off the tallest objects. It’s when those two charges come together..zap. Circuit completed.
Enough of the science lesson, now to why I’m so afraid of lightning, it’s hot, up to five times as hot as the surface of the sun, or roughly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since 2007 in the United States alone, there have been 312 fatalities, seven of those deaths happened in 2017.
It is not safe to be outside when lightning is in the area. How do you know when a thunderstorm is too close? If you can hear thunder or see lightning, you are close enough to be struck.
The beach is probably the last place you want to be as you may end up as the tallest object in sight, just tempting fate. Under a tree is not safe. In a picnic shelter without walls is not a safe place to be.
A sturdy building such as a house is really the best place to ride out a storm. A car, if a building is not available, is not a bad place to go, as long as it’s not a convertible. (It’s the steel frame of your car that protects you, not the rubber tires.)
Finally, what should you do if someone is struck? Call 9-1-1 immediately. Then begin giving that person first aid in a safe place as quickly as possible. Most people that are struck actually do survive, and I’m sure that percentage would be higher if appropriate aid were rendered.
When the human body is struck by such heat, it can shock the system into cardiac arrest. Once the strike is complete, about 30 microseconds, the victim is no longer electrically charged. Begin CPR, you will not be shocked. Patients who do survive often end up with lifelong physical, mental and emotional disorders.
Imagine your entire body being short-circuited. Unlike your house, which can be rewired, there is not an electrician that can reverse the damage of lightning upon the fragile human body. Be smart and stay weather alert.