Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What To Do When Lightning Strikes

If you feel it coming, dive!

Can you tell when you are about to be struck by lightning? There is often a warning: a feeling similar to what happens when you touch a static electricity generator, or when you take the clothes out of the dryer and separate a staticky sock from a towel. This is to be expected, since lightning starts as static electricity that breaks down the air to neutralize the charge. The result is that people about to be hit can feel the hair on their bodies stand on end and sometimes report a tingling sensation. If you are in a storm and feel this, act immediately. This is all the warning you are going to get. Get as low as you can to the ground but don’t lie down. If you are not the highest point around, you are less likely to be hit. If you can find a nearby ditch or draw, get into it. Rolling to the ditch is much smarter than running there. Rolling in something wet will also help to get rid of the charge accumulation on your body. Avoid holding on to anything metal. If you have a tool in your hand, drop it. If you are touching a metal object, get away from it. If you are on a roof, get off. Don’t do anything that will make you a more attractive target for the lightning.

It’s easy to detect an oncoming storm with your TV. Turn on your set to Channel 2 and turn the sound all the way down. Next, adjust the set so that the contrast turns the screen just barely black. Lightning will cause the screen to flash white. This works because lightning emits energy on a lot of frequencies at the same time (broad band emissions). Since even the small portion of the lightning energy emitted as radio frequencies is huge, your TV antenna picks this up and tries to interpret it as a picture. The worse the lightning, the more frequent and brighter the screen flashes will be. This will give you some idea when a bad storm is heading your way without having to expose yourself to the weather.

Protect yourself

Protecting yourself during a lightning storm is easy. All you need to do is remember a few simple rules:

1. If possible, don’t go out in a thunderstorm. This means that you need to be aware enough of the weather to know when one is coming.

2. If you are out in a storm, make sure that you are not the highest point. Stay off the top of hills. Don’t make yourself look taller to the lightning by holding things up or holding on to trees or structures. Stay off roofs.

3. In a thunderstorm, don’t take refuge under a tree. The tree may be hit and explode and turn into shrapnel, or fall on you.

4. Stay away from metal. Metal generally attracts lightning. This also means that you should not shower or bathe during storms. Your pipes are made of metal, and current flows through wet things, including people.

5. Don’t sit on the toilet if you can help it. You’re sitting right in the way of a direct ground.

6. Pay attention to your body. It will tell you if you are about to be hit. When you feel the warning signs (a feeling of static electricity, hair standing on end, a tingling sensation), take action immediately: get low (roll into a ditch if possible) but don’t lie down.

7. Don’t talk on the telephone. The phone lines are not immune to lightning strikes.

8. If you are in a high-lightning area, such as Florida, use lightning rods on your buildings and install surge protection for your house and electronics.

You might survive a lightning strike (many people have), but it’s a heck of a lot nicer if you don’t have to try.

Albert Carlson is an electrical and computer engineer. He is currently designing control systems with embedded computers and finishing work on an advanced degree in artificial intelligence.

By Jack Moorehouse

I usually talk about lightning in golf lessons and golf tips because it’s important. Lightning claims more lives every year than hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods combined, according to some reports. That’s a lot of people. And golfers with their hand held lightning rods, as I mention in my golf instruction sessions, are as likely to be killed as anyone, unless they’re careful. 

How deadly is lightning? A typical shock from lightning sends several thousand amps through your body in an instant. Unfortunately, it takes only two amps to stop your heart. So your chances of surviving after being struck by lightning aren’t good. That’s why you should know exactly what to do when you’re on the course and lightning strikes. 

Here’s a short golf instruction session on what to do. 

Find a dense wooded area

Don’t seek refuge under a lone tree. That’s extremely dangerous. Thickets of short trees, On the other hand, are relatively safe. Also, avoid isolated shacks, unless they are grounded with lightning rods. Many are not, so be careful. Don’t enter one unless you know for sure that it’s been grounded. One golfer who took a golf lesson from me was surprised to find out after a storm that the shack she took shelter in wasn’t grounded. 

Fall to your knees

When caught in the open, fall to your knees. Lightning strikes the highest point in the immediate vicinity. So if you’re caught in the open and you think you’re going to be struck by lightning, go down to your knees. Get as low as possible, but don’t lie down. You want as little of the ground touching your body as possible. Lightning often travels through the ground

Take off you spiked shoes

Not many golfers who take golf instruction sessions from me wear metal spikes these days. But some do. If you happen to be one and you get caught on the course when lightning strikes, take your shoes off. The metal attracts electricity. You’re better off getting your socks wet than being hit by lightning. 

Get rid of your umbrella

Most golf umbrellas are made of fiberglass, making them less likely to attract lightning. However, lightning will strike an umbrella occasionally, because lightning tends to strike the highest point in the immediate vicinity. Never carry an umbrella except during a light drizzling rain. 

Stay away from water

Get as far away from ponds and lakes as you can. Water is a great conductor of electricity. If lightning strikes a lake or a pool, it can move through the ground and hit you where you stand. Remember few people are struck directly by lightning. It almost always strikes something near by and conducts through the ground.

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