You have, apparently, a one in 3,000 chance – over an average 80 year lifetime – of getting killed or injured by lightning, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory website.
There you are outdoors on a sunny cloudless day, when out of the blue you get hit by a rogue bolt of lightning, as the youthful 11 year-old Britney Wehrle was, when out with a friend enjoying the heat. Believe it or not, such things are neither truly freakish nor rare, but happen way more often than anyone might ever have believed.
It transpires that weather researchers have discovered the ominous reality of lightning being fully capable of striking ground a very long way from the cloud that bore it. Bolts From The Blue, often happening when skies above are clear, are not unexpected by scientists, however strange they might seem to us.
Britney, fortunately, suffered nothing more serious than a broken arm and painful shoulder burn, but everyone needs to bear in mind that, where risk of being struck are concerned, they should take no chances. The National Weather Service released figures – astonishing, to say the least – which prove conclusively that outdoors in a thunderstorm is simply not the place to be.
Around the world, there occur 16 million thunderstorms every year, which means that every second of the day 1,800 strikes happen every single second somewhere, releasing 25 million bolts of lightning, caused by everything from volcanic eruptions to intense forest fires. The annual death toll from lightning strike is 55 people on average, though hundreds more are hit, many badly injured.
You have, apparently, a 1 in 3,000 chance – over an average 80 year lifetime – of getting killed or injured by lightning, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory website, and very specific circumstances are needed to create lightning. Hot ground temperatures, along with moist conditions cause strong updrafts, propelling wet warm air upwards and causing the formation of clouds.
The clouds then rise higher – ice starts to form – the conditions then being created for the formation of electricity in vast quantities. This sees the electric charge starting to build until sparks fly, as can happen when you yourself create static charge. Some lightning bolts remain within the clouds, but others head toward the ground.
Predicting eventual landfall is an impossible task, but not one single lightning flash ever lasts more than milliseconds, usually a combining of many smaller bolts, often striking earth in many different locations simultaneously. Strangely though, lightning bolts can actually burst from one cloud, travelling horizontally through lots of other cloud formations – over many miles before eventually striking ground – on occasion where cloudless skies are the order of the day.
This obviously means that even if that relatively local thunderstorm is nowhere to be seen, some unlucky person could find it to nonetheless be deadly for them. Bearing that in mind, at the sound of thunder you should head indoors. In the midst of thunderstorms, the only safe zones are within buildings or motor-cars, as long as you avoid making contact with metal or water.
Tall, isolated trees, hill-tops or ridge lines should all definitely be avoided, as well as low-lying places. Tents offer no protection so avoid them, and generally think about the way you lightning, whose spectacular natural light-shows can be enjoyed in perfect safety, from any safe location.