Lightning

lightning lightning

One of the most magnificent natural phenomena, lightning is often believed to be an infrequent occurrence.
In actuality, lightning hits the earth an estimated 100 times per second on average, or 8.6 million times a day.
It is estimated that the U.S. alone receives as many as 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year from perhaps 100,000 thunderstorms.

What are some of the facts about lightning?
Lightning is a spark that can reach over 5 miles in length, attain a temperature of approximately 50,000 deg;F, and contain over 100 million electrical volts.
According to Stu Ostro, a Senior Weather Specialist at The Weather Channel, cloud-to-ground lightning is usually caused when a negative charge at the base of a cloud is attracted to the positive charge at the earth's surface; a powerful surge of electricity descends to the ground carrying a current made up of millions of electrons. This is answered by a return stroke, which appears to us as the bright flash of cloud-to-ground lightning.

Are You at Risk?
Do you know if you live in a lightning-prone area?
Check the incidence of thunderstorms in your area by contacting an expert source. Check the business listing of your white pages.
For current conditions, watch The Weather Channel. Or check the severe weather alerts or the thunderstorm forecast map.

Do you know what a Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Warning means?

Anticipating Lightning
Lightning always accompanies thunderstorms, so your first line of defense is to keep an eye and ear to the sky.
Stu Ostro, a Senior Weather Specialist at The Weather Channel and Weather Ready's expert resource for meteorological science, urges an awareness of the swiftness with which thunderstorms can develop, and of lightning's capricious nature.
• Equate thunder with lightning, even if lightning is not visible where you are. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
• Even if you can't hear thunder, you might nonetheless be at risk. The first bolts from a towering cloud overhead can catch you by surprise, and so-called "bolts from the blue" can extend way out from the edge of a thunderstorm and strike a point well away from where most of the thunder and lightning is occurring.

How Close Is The Lightning?
You can do a rough calculation this way: When you see the flash, begin to count the seconds until you hear the thunder. Divide this number by 5. The number you get is the approximate distance of the lightning in miles.
For example, if you count nine seconds between the flash and the thunder, the lightning struck just under two miles away.

How Will You Be Warned?
There are no watches or warnings issued for lightning per se.
• Though severe thunderstorms can certainly contain a lot of lightning, not all of them do, and many thunderstorms laden with lightning occur without being designated "severe" and without any watches or warnings in effect.
Severe thunderstorms are defined as those which produce hail 3/4" in diameter or larger, wind gusts 58 mph or greater, and/or tornadoes. (Please see the Tornado section for more information.)
Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Conditions are conducive to the development of severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning - A severe thunderstorm has actually been observed by spotters or indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area.
In lieu of official lightning warnings and watches, you can keep your own vigilant watch, both on the sky and the forecast.
• Keep alert for thunder and lightning, and for signs that can be (though aren't always) associated with thunderstorms, such as darkening clouds and sudden wind shifts.
• Tune into The Weather Channel and watch your local forecast on the 8's of every hour for updates for your area. You can also consult the NOAA Weather Radio for the latest storm updates.

Before Lightning Strikes

Rocky Lopes, Disaster Services representative for the American Red Cross, offers the following advice. "It's important for people to realize that they and only they must be responsible for preparing for a thunderstorm."
Make certain that everything you need is in one specific, easy-to-access location. It must be readily available for you to simply grab when needed.

Be Informed
Check the incidence of lightning in your area by contacting an expert source like your local American Red Cross chapter or check the business listing of your white pages.
Determine your severe weather insurance eligibility now.
Find out more from:
• Your insurance agent
• National Insurance Consumer Helpline (1-800-942-4242)
• The Insurance Information Institute (1-800-331-9146)
Learn how to help in an emergency. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for training in administering First Aid and CPR, and how to treat lightning shock.
Check your local weather forecast or tune into The Weather Channel before planning any boat trips, water-based, or outdoor events.

Be Prepared
Develop a Family Preparedness Plan that includes the following:
• Designate a friend or family member outside our area to be a contact in case a storm knocks out your electricity. Update these plans every school year, and as places of employment and residence change.
• Your Family Emergency Supplies Kit. These contents can be assembled over a five-month period on a weekly basis, and perishable items should be changed or replaced every six months.
• For more information on assembling and refreshing supplies, contact the American Red Cross for their Disaster Supplies Kit brochure.
Prepare your property by removing dead or rotting trees and branches that can damage your home in a lightning strike or in the high winds that may occur.
If you plan to spend the day outdoors, look for a place to take shelter if weather turns bad.
If a thunderstorm threatens your area, you can monitor its progress by turning on The Weather Channel or tuning into your local weather forecast.

Issued Warning
You observe and/or hear lightning and thunder, or thunderstorms are in the forecast.
A Severe Thunderstorm warning is in effect what should you do?

At Home
If you are at home, protect yourself and your family following the safety tips below:
• Follow weather reports. Make sure a battery-powered radio is nearby.
• Do not turn on the television. Listen to The Weather Channel Radio Network for the most current information.
• Lightning can cause power surges. Unplug all appliances before the storm hits.
• Avoid using the phone. Telephone lines can conduct electricity.
• Metal pipes also conduct electricity. Stay away from faucets, sinks, and bathtubs.
• Close the blinds and shades of your window, then keep away from them.
• Keep pets on a leash or in a carrier.

Away From Home
There are times when storms come up suddenly.
If you are away from home, protect yourself and your family by taking cover in the best shelter you can find.
• If you are in or near the water, go to land immediately and find shelter.
• If choosing between a building or a car, choose the building.
• If choosing between a hard-top and a convertible, choose the hard-top.
• If you're in a car, keep the windows closed.
• If there is no shelter, find a low-lying, open place that is a safe distance from trees, poles, or metal objects that can conduct electricity. Make sure it is not likely to flood.
• Assume a tucked position: Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head tucked between them. Try to touch as little of your body to the ground as possible.
• Do not lie flat on the ground, as your fully-extended body will provide a larger surface to conduct electricity. Stay in a tuck position well after the storm passes.
• Watch for local flooding you may have to move if water begins to accumulate.
• If you feel your hair stand on end in a storm, drop into the tuck position immediately. This sensation means electric charges are already rushing up your body from the ground toward an electrically charged cloud. Minimize your contact with the ground to minimize your injury.

After the Storm

After lightning has struck, there is nothing more important than seeing to the safety and needs of your loved ones. But sometimes people are afraid to touch a lightning victim.
Once lightning has struck a person or even an object, however, the person or object does not carry a charge and cannot harm you. Although lightning is electrical, it is not like a house current.

How To Help Injured Others
• Administer First Aid immediately and call 911.
• Check for breathing and for a pulse. If there is none, begin to administer CPR.
• A lightning victim often suffers severe burns in two places on the body: where the bolt entered and where it exited. Expect to find more than one injury.

Beware Of Hazards
• Avoid downed power lines. Keep children and pets far away.
• To prevent accidental fires, use flashlights, not candles to see if power is on or off after a storm. (More people die as a result of fires caused by candles than from the actual impact of the disaster itself.)
• Keep pets on a leash.
Assess Psychological Effects
In addition to the obvious physical damage, lightning can sometimes cause emotional trauma and distress. Crisis counseling can help.
• Should you or your family need or desire crisis counseling, contact your local American Red Cross Chapter for information about resources in your area.
• Address your problems one at a time. Because you took responsibility, you protected your lives. The rest can be rebuilt.

Lightning Myths

Lightning kills or injures hundreds of people every year, mainly because the victims are not aware of the danger they face.
Myths and misperceptions about lightning can add to the confusion.
It's important for people to know how frequently thunderstorms occur in their own areas, because no state is exempt from this danger. Floridians, for example, should be aware their state has the highest incidence of lightning in the country.

True Or False?
See just how enlightened you are!
• Lightning always strikes the tallest object.
False! Lightning strikes the best conductor on the ground, not necessarily the tallest object. In some cases, the best conductor might be a human being.
• A car's rubber tires give protection from lightning.
False! Actually, the car itself is very well insulated and offers more protection than being outside in the storm. Of course, the exception to this is the convertible, which provides virtually no protection.
• Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
False! Tell that one to the Empire State Building, which is struck by lightning many times every year.

Some Enlightening Facts & Safety Tips About Lightning
1. Average Lightning Stroke is 6 miles long.
2. The Temperature of lightning's return stroke can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The surface of the sun is not even that hot! (around 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
3. Average Thunderstorm is 6-10 miles wide.
4. Average Thunderstorm travels at a rate of 25 miles per hour.
5. Once the leading edge of a thunderstorm approaches to within 10 miles, you are at immediate risk due to the possibility of lightning strokes coming from overhanging anvil cloud. Because of this, many lightning deaths and injuries occur with clear skies directly overhead.
6. On average, thunder can only be heard over a distance of 3-4 miles, depending on humidity, terrain and other factors.
7. Approximately 100,000 thunderstorms occur in the United States each year.
8. Approximately 10% of all thunderstorms are severe enough to produce high winds, flash floods, and tornadoes.
9. Thunderstorms cause an average of 200 deaths and 700 injuries in the United States each year.