Shelter in a storm

2010-11-25 00:00

DO not bath or shower or use the telephone when there is lightning around, and stay indoors if possible.

However, if you are outside and far from any safe shelter, lie down flat on the ground so that the lightning cannot strike you, says Jan Vermeulen, a senior weather forecaster at the South Africa Weather Service (SAWS).

An umbrella will not stop lightning, as lightning can strike through the umbrella, he said.

Estelle de Coning, a physicist at the SAWS, says that people with steel plates in their arms or legs should stay indoors, as there is a good chance that the lightning will strike them.

De Coning says an estimated one in every 350 000 people are struck by lightning.

Lightning comes with every thunderstorm, and occurs as soon as the thunderstorm starts brewing.

It is caused by the build-up and discharging of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas in the atmosphere and clouds.

“Most lightning is formed among the clouds, but it is the lightning that strikes the ground that is dangerous.”

De Coning says it is important to know that lightning also occurs when it is not raining and that it can occur as far as 16 km outside an area experiencing heavy rain.

“Rubber-soled shoes and car tyres offer no protection against lightning. But the steel frame of a vehicle increases protection as long as you don’t touch any metal in your vehicle.

“Despite the fact that you can be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are nevertheless safer in your vehicle than outside it.”

De Coning says it’s just a myth that one should not touch someone who has been struck by lightning.

“Victims of a lightning strike can be helped immediately.”

An estimated 100 lightning strikes occur across the Earth every second.

“The electric current of a single lightning bolt can supply enough energy to illuminate a city of 200 000 people for one minute.

“And lightning can strike the same spot twice. The Empire State Building in New York is struck about 24 times a year. During a particular storm, lightning struck a certain building 15 times in 20 minutes,” says De Coning.

Vermeulen said one is safe inside an aeroplane as aeroplanes have good lightning conduction.

“They can be struck by lightning, but the damage will be to the aeroplane. Pilots are generally advised to avoid thunderstorms and rather to fly around or above them.”

EMERGENCY service operator ER24 said yesterday that in the past 72 hours, at least five people have been killed, and another five injured after being struck by lightning.

“If you are near a person who has been struck by lightning, immediately activate the emergency services. If the person is unconscious and not breathing, start CPR.”

“An emergency call taker at the ER24 084 124 dispatch centre will give directions on how to perform CPR to those who do not know how,” said spokesperson Vanessa Jackson.

“It is essential that CPR is started promptly, as the electrical shock may interfere with the electrical current of the heart, causing it to stop beating properly.”

Jackson said severe electrical shocks, like lightning strikes, affect almost every organ and tissue, and may cause extensive damage.

“Some of the after effects of a lightning strike include, cardiac and pulmonary arrest [no pulse and no breathing], usually temporary paralysis, temporary deafness, and minor to severe burns.”

She warned that thunder and lightning usually occurs some time before it begins to rain, “so don’t wait until the rain starts before you take action and get to an area of safety”.

Dangerous during an electrical storm: a bath or shower, talking on the telephone, out on a golf course, a football pitch or a rugby field.

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