There’s always a way to prepare for the worst when it comes to dealing with inclement weather.
On average, there are 100 lightning strikes around the world every second. In the United States, 50 people die every year, and hundreds more are injured. With the summer months upon us, now is the time to be aware of the warning signs of a lightning strike and how you can protect yourself if you are caught in a storm.
What Causes Lightning?
Lightning is a very powerful form of electricity. It begins as a static charge in a rain cloud that builds up when water droplets in the bottom of the cloud are caught in updrafts and lifted to the top, where they freeze and fall back down to the lower regions of the clouds, where they are once again are propelled upward by the updrafts. This cycle continues until the freezing raindrops form hailstones and fall to earth.
When the ice going down hits the water coming up, electrons are stripped off, creating a “battery” with the top of the cloud charging positive and the bottom of the cloud charging negative. As the difference in charge between the top and the bottom of the cloud grows larger, it looks for a place to discharge.
Eventually, the static charge is released in the form of lighting when the bottom of the charge breaks out and creates an electrostatic discharge tunnel that connects with a positive charge on the ground, which could be a tower, a tree, or a person standing on a hill.
Signs of Lightning
If you see one or more of these signs, seek shelter immediately to reduce the risk of injury or death:
A fast-growing cumulonimbus cloud. Some clouds appear as a sheet of white, while others are fragmented into clumps. Clouds usually have a small dark area in the center of the base. This is called a “core” and indicates that the cloud is vertically developed. The amount of moisture contained in a cloud often determines the color of the cloud. A dark cumulonimbus cloud with a tall vertical extension signals a lightning storm.
Thunder. The sound of thunder travels five seconds per mile. If you hear thunder within five seconds of a lightning flash, it means the lightning strike was less than a mile away, and it’s time to take cover immediately.
Lightning always happens during a lightning storm, but it can actually also start before the storm arrives or continue after the storm has passed. Take shelter before the storm arrives and wait 30 minutes before going outside after the storm has stopped.