“Nowadays most lightning injuries occur on the golf course. “
False. Indeed, a large number are work-related. These include injuries to postal and construction workers and persons using telephones that have not been properly grounded. (5) The numbers of farmers injured has decreased farmers to work larger fields in better-protected vehicles. Injuries during recreation have increased. They occur to joggers, hikers, and campers, as well as golfers. In addition, a significant number of people are injured while participating in team sports.
“Some people can attract lightning.”
Some have called themselves “human lightning rods,” claiming that thunderstorms would change course to find them or that they had been struck multiple times. Given my experience with lightning victims, I must say that, although some may suffer little injury from a single strike, the majority have some type of sequel. When one claims to have been hit 20 or more times, the odds of being able to talk about it decrease logarithmic-ally. Would any reasonable person not have enough sense to learn to avoid lightning after the first couple of hits?
“I am safe in a car because the rubber tires protect me.”
True and False. True because there have been no documented lightning deaths that have occurred in a hard topped metal vehicle with the windows rolled up. However, the composite tires have little, if any, part in this, for the same reasons as those just discussed with regard to insulation. The safety has to do with the fact that electrical current travels along the outside of a conductor (the metal body of the car) and dissipates to the ground through paths that include the tires and the rainwater.
“Carrying an umbrella increases my risk of being hit. “
True. Increasing your height by any amount increases your chances of being hit by a calculable amount, although a prospective, population-based, double-blind, randomized study has not been done to prove this, nor has the composition (metal versus composite or plastic) of the umbrella or one-iron been studied. Other dangerous things to avoid: avoid being the highest object anywhere, be it a beach, small open boat, pier, meadow, or ridge. Avoid being under a lightning rod (except when inside a substantial habitable building that is protected) or standing near a metal fence, underground pipes, or other metallic paths that can transmit lightning energy from a nearby strike. Avoid swimming, because lightning energy can be transmitted through the water to you. Sailboats should be equipped with adequate lightning protection systems.
“When lightning hits the ground nearby, it is ‘grounded ‘ and I am safe. “
Totally and absolutely FALSE. Despite the fact that we call the earth a “ground,” it is very difficult to pump electricity into the ground. Most “earth” is a very good insulator. When lightning hits the ground, it spreads out along the surface and first few inches of the ground in increasing circles of energy called “ground current.” If it contacts a fence or a water pipe or wire entering a house it can be transmitted for quite a distance and cause injury to persons near these paths. People, being bags of electrolytes, are better transmitters of electrical current than most ground is, and many are injured by ground current effect each year as the lightning energy surges up one leg that is closer to the strike and down the one further away.
Now that you know what is and is not true, what can you do to avoid or limit your odds on being struck?
When should I seek shelter?
You should seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. Don’t wait for rain or lightning flashes. A common misconception is that you can’t get struck if it isn’t raining where you are, but lightning strikes can occur miles away from rain clouds. If you are enjoying an outdoor activity, be sure to keep an eye out for early signs of thunderstorms such as darkening skies or strong wind
Where should I go during a thunderstorm?
The best place to be during a thunderstorm is inside of a large, enclosed structure. A building’s plumbing and electrical wiring help channel the current of a lightning strike into the ground. Avoid structures without plumbing, wiring, or with open sides, such as:
- Beach shacks or lifeguard stands
- Sheds, tents, or pop-up canopies
- Picnic shelters, park pavilions, or band shells
- Covered porches
- Baseball dugouts
What if an enclosed structure isn’t available?
If you can’t reach a permanent shelter, the next best place is a fully enclosed vehicle, such as a car, truck, van, or bus. Avoid soft-top convertibles (even with the top up) and vehicles with open sides such as:
- Golf carts
- Quads, ATVs, and side-by-sides
- Construction equipment
Once inside, be sure to roll the windows up, and keep away from anything that can carry an electrical current, such as metal trim or the ignition switch.