Just because the sky above your head is blue and cloudless, you should not believe that lightning cannot strike, because anyplace within 25 miles of a thunderstorm could potentially still cop for it.
Can you picture the oddness of being, on a cloudless day, being suddenly struck by lightning, as 11 year-old Britney Wehrle was, when out strolling with a friend? Thing is, and please do not laugh, this event is neither truly freakish nor rare, happening far more often than you might have thought possible.
Lightning you see, is known to be capable of striking a very long way from the cloud in which it came into being, twenty-five miles being by no means unusual, and for very obvious reasons dubbed, by scientists Bolts From The Blue, often happening when skies above are clear.
Britney was lucky, in that she suffered no more than a shoulder burn and broken arm, but everyone should bear in mind that when it comes to the risk of being struck, outdoors in a thunderstorm is simply not the place to be, the National Weather Service releasing figures that are astonishing, to say the least
16 million thunderstorms occur annually around the globe, 1,800 going on at every moment that passes. These storms release 25 million bolts of lightning, most striking the ground, caused by thunderstorms, intense forest fires, volcanic eruptions, nuclear explosions, large hurricanes and heavy snow systems, as well as other reasons.
55 people on average die each year through lightning strike, hundreds more being hit, many badly injured through the experience. The National Severe Storms Laboratory website quotes the existing of a 1 in 3,000 chance, in your average 80 year lifetime, of getting killed or injured by lightning.
Very specific circumstances are needed to create lightning, including hot ground temperatures, moist conditions, and strong updrafts propelling wet warm air upwards to condense and cause clouds to form. These rise higher until ice begins to form, electricity only being generated by clouds containing both liquid and solid water.
Electric charge starts to build and sparks fly, like the static you sometimes generate yourself. While some such bolts of lightning are contained inside the clouds, others escape, heading to ground, though predicting eventual landfall is impossible. Believe it or not, no flash ever lasts beyond milliseconds, composed of many, usually individual, smaller bolts and often hitting the earth in many different places at once.
Bolts can also, it transpires, erupt from one cloud but travel horizontally through many others, sometimes for many miles before eventually finally hitting the ground, sometimes in places where the weather seems perfect. So even if the thunderstorm you know is in the locality may not be visible, it could nonetheless be deadly, if you were very unlucky indeed.
If outside, the sound of thunder should send you indoors, because, during thunderstorms, the only two guaranteed safe places to hide are in a motor car – do not touch any metal parts, but sit still – and inside a house – where again you should avoid contact with water or metal.
If stuck outdoors, tall isolated trees should be avoided, as should hill-tops or ridge lines, low-lying places being best, though tents offer no protection from lightning, so avoid staying inside them. If you take care to think about your approach to the question of lightning, you can enjoy the often spectacular light-shows in perfect safety, seeing nature at her most ferociously beautiful, while not taking any chances.