Could You Be Struck By Lightning

Friday, August 22, 2008

It might be more likely to happen than you expect.

Could you be struck by lightning? It's possible. In fact, being struck by lightning (your odds are an estimated 1 in 700,000) is more common than being involved in an aircraft accident (1 in 11 million), being bitten by a shark (1 in 8 million), or dying from food poisoning (1 in 3 million). In 2006, 46 people died as a result of being struck by lightning and 246 were injured, according to the National Weather Service. Here's what you should know about lightning strikes, and what you can do to reduce your chances of being struck.

Why and When Lightning Strikes

In a thunderstorm, rising and falling air separates positive and negative charges inside the cloud. These charges build up and release electrical energy, which creates lightning. When lightning becomes a visible strike, electrically charged air moves down until it meets with a powerful surge of electricity from the ground.

Trees are often lightning victims. Why? Height, high resin content, needles, and leaves lend themselves to a high electrical discharge during a thunderstorm. These reasons are why you should never find shelter under a tree during a storm.

Contrary to popular belief, lightning often strikes outside of heavy rainfall--sometimes up to ten miles away. Lightning is more common during the summer months because the warm, moist air produces the right conditions.

How to Avoid Being Struck

What should you do if you're outside when a storm strikes? Here, a few preventative steps you can take to assure you don't become a victim of this improbable and unfortunate event.
Get inside
. If you are planning on being outdoors, be sure you know where the closest shelter is. If you're caught outdoors with no structure nearby, get inside a hardtop car.
Avoid trees
. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 25 percent of lightning strike deaths occur when the victim is under a tree.
30/30 rule
. The National Weather Service suggests you follow the 30/30 rule. The rule states you should seek shelter if there is a delay of thirty seconds or less between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder. You should also stay indoors until thirty minutes after the final clap of thunder.

What Happens if You're Struck

Injuries resulting from lightning strikes are not the same as those from other types of electrical shocks. According to NASA, a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts of electricity while a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts. When a person is struck, the electrical current passes over the surface of the body and may produce severe burns around the head, neck, and shoulders. If a person is struck and survives, he or she may still be at risk for kidney failure, infection, or muscle and tissue damage. The most immediate cause of death as a result of a lightning strike is cardiac arrest.


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