Did you know that in the US lightnings kill more people than hurricanes?
60 to 80 people die per year. Many more are struck by one of the 25 million cloud-to-ground flashes hitting the American soil per year but survive, though thunder survivors often suffer from severe burns and life lasting neurological damage.
Where Lightning Strikes
The highest recorded number of lightning fatalities per year occurs in Brazil – 80 to 120. The highest occurrence of bolts is in the tropics and from the map below it would seem that Africa is treated gratuitously by Jupiter but for lack of statistical data it is hard to say just how many lives the giant electricity sparks claim there. However, it is the area near the village of Kifuka in the Democratic Republic of Congo which holds the world record with 158 lightning strikes per square kilometer per year.
Human Lightning Conductor
A lightning strike most often kills by causing cardiac arrest and burns. Not everyone is going to be as lucky as Roy Sullivan who between 1942 and 1977 survived SEVEN lightning strikes and was appropriately nicknamed Human Lightning Conductor. Even though the strikes set his hair on fire, knocked him out, and burnt him on different occasions they did not kill him – he committed a suicide! One tough cookie.
How to protect yourself
Since the number of lightning accidents spikes during summertime due to increased number of thunderstorms combined with the higher number of people venturing outside, it’d be good to know how to protect yourself.
Here’s what to do if you don’t want to check if you can beat Sullivan’s world record:
- Run inside a building with plumbing and wiring but stay away from anything metal or any other electricity conductors (so no shower or baths). Stay away from windows and doors. Cordless and cell phones are fine, cord phones are not.
- When caught outside your best option is to get into a hard top car, or any other steel or aluminum structure (a cable lift car for example) that will work as a Faraday Cage. Again, do not touch the metal. The picture taken in Boston Science Museum shows it works:
- Hiding inside a cave will protect you if the cave is large enough, with ceiling at least 3 meters high and with walls at least 1 meter from you. Stay away from the entrance. A tent or wooden cabin will do you no good, except keeping you dry and providing some comfort.
- If no such shelter is close by stay away from single trees (they will explode when struck), metal masts or power lines.
- If in a group, spread out: this increases the likelihood of somebody being struck but decreases the probability of multiple casualties. So, if it strikes then the victim will have somebody to provide/call for help.
- When in the mountains, get at least 100 meters below the peak or ridge, preferably heading towards the side of the mountain away from the storm. Do not touch vertical rock surfaces.
- If you are caught out in the open your best option is to sit on something that will insulate you from the secondary shock from the current traveling through the ground (a frameless backpack would do). For the same reason, if your feet do touch the ground, keep them close together to minimize the secondary shock.
- Stay away from any water reservoirs and toss away any big metal objects.
- Remember, if you can hear a thunder, you’re close enough to the storm to be hit by a lightning.
- Finally, don’t panic. Statistically, you stand a better chance of winning the lottery than being struck by a lightning.
So take all the precautions you can, say a prayer, hum Thunderstruck by ACDC and enjoy the show!