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By: Lauren McRae
The month of July and especially 4th of July weekend is historically one of the deadliest times of the year for lightning strikes in the U.S., as people head outdoors to set off fireworks and enjoy summer festivities.
Why Lightning is Dangerous:
Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge that’s attracted to the tallest object around, as it travels between the ground and the sky. Your chances of being struck by lightning in one year are 1 in 700,000. The truth of the matter is that lightning is dangerous – it’s the most consistent weather killer on Earth. It kills more people than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods.
The major cause of lightning death is from burns; the only immediate cause of death is cardiopulmonary arrest. This is when immense electrical energy enters the body and acts like a massive defibrillation. Then the heart stops beating. Many victims suffer chronic pain, attention deficit, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder after being struck.
However, recent research in the South African Journal of Science, found that lightning’s pressure blast wave is almost as dangerous. It amounts to the same as that of a 5K TNT bomb and can injure people within .006 miles (10 meters) of a lightning flash. To give you a comparison, this amount of energy could blow up concrete pavement.
Lightning strikes are almost completely preventable if people heed the necessary safety measures. Ernest E. Wang, M.D., Emergency Medicine, offers some lightning safety tips and facts to protect us from summertime lightning:
If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of a storm—and you can be struck by lightning. Once you see lightning start counting. Every five seconds you count until you hear thunder is a mile.
The first and most important rule is to seek shelter indoors once you hear thunder or see lightning activity. If you’re stuck in a storm, don’t seek shelter under a tree. Lightning can ‘side flash’ from a struck object to a nearby victim. Avoid hilltops, too.
If you are in or near water, you’re at the most risk during thunderstorms because water is a good conductor of electricity. Also, avoid standing on beaches, as lightning may strike at water’s edge. If you’re in a boat, seek shelter.
If your hair is standing up, this is a sign that electricity is in the air and it’s a major warning sign to seek shelter.
There are two ways you can get struck by lightning: You can get hit directly or indirectly. Directly is self-explanatory, but indirect contact with lightning’s energy can be deadly, too. Anything that can send an electrical current should be avoided. This includes electrical cords, metal objects, metal appliances, the outside of a car, or concrete can even zap you by transferring lightning’s electrical current through your body. You’ll want to avoid using items like umbrellas, golf clubs or doing activities like kite-flying. Also, remove anything metal from your clothing and body, such as jewelry, belts and coins.
Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. The threat of lightning continues for a much longer period than some people realize. Even if you see sunshine or a blue sky, you may still be at risk.
Listen to the weather station in your area to stay updated on the storm and give yourself adequate time to get home. Use social media and phones to warn others of thunderstorm activity.