Question of the Week

July 20, 2009


While there are reports of lightning year-round in the United States, lightning strikes are more frequent in the summer. That said, even one stroke of lightning has significant power.

"A single stroke of lightning has 125,000,000 volts of electricity. That's enough power to light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months, or enough to seriously hurt or to kill someone. Lightning is something you should not be careless around."

Most people know that lightning is powerful and dangerous, but there are many misconceptions about lightning, as well.

"Did you know that rubber shoes do nothing to protect you from lightning? That talking on the telephone is the leading cause of lightning injuries inside the home? That standing under a tall tree is one of the most dangerous places to take shelter?"

While being indoors is the safest place to be, and many people know that lightning can travel through electrical lines, few realize that injuries do occur in buildings when people use wired devices during an electrical storm.

"'Follow the rule: "When thunder roars, go indoors,"' Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, director of the lightning injury research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release. Once inside, don't use landline phones, wired computers or video games. 'We are seeing an increasing proportion of people injured indoors using PlayStations and other hard-wired video games, even though they knew to unplug their computers to prevent lightning damage,' Cooper said."

When you see lightning or hear thunder, the best thing to do is get to a safe place and avoid things that conduct electricity.

"When you see lightning, follow these safety rules:

  1. Stay or go indoors! If you hear thunder, don't go outside unless absolutely necessary. ...
  2. Stay away from anything that could conduct electricity. This includes fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks, and phones.
  3. Don't use any plug-in electrical appliances like hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, or electric razors. If lightning strikes your house they can conduct the charge to you.
  4. Don't use the telephone during the storm. Lightning may strike telephone lines outside.
  5. Stay in your automobile if you are traveling. Automobiles give you excellent lightning protection.
  6. Don't use metal objects outside, like fishing rods and golf clubs. Golfers wearing cleated shoes are really good lightning rods.
  7. Get out of the water. This includes getting off small boats on the water.
  8. If you're outdoors, seek shelter from lightning! Buildings are best for shelter, but if no buildings are available, you can find protection in a cave, ditch, or a canyon. Trees are not good cover! Tall trees attract lightning.
  9. If you can't find shelter, avoid the tallest object in the area. ...
  10. When you feel the electrical charge -- if your hair stands on end or your skin tingles -- lightning may be about to strike you. Drop to the ground immediately!"

Many don't want to stop their summer fun, and it can be difficult to change one's plans based on the weather. For those who don't heed the warnings, death or serious injury can occur.

  • "To date, in 2009, 23 people have been killed by lightning
  • In 2008, 28 people died due to lightning strikes
  • Hundreds of others were permanently injured. Of the victims who were killed by lightning in 2008:
      o   100% outside
      o   79% male
      o   36% males between the ages of 20-25
      o   32% under a tree
      o   29% on or near the water
The reported number of injuries is likely far lower than the actual total number because many people do not seek help or doctors do not record it as a lightning injury. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long."

Questions of the Week:
What should you do at the first sign of thunder or lightning? If your friends or family members don't want to change their plans based on the weather, what can/ should you do? How can you be safe and find alternate plans without seeming paranoid?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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