If you hear thunder, chances are, lightning isn’t far behind. Lightning strikes can occur on a seemingly clear day and as far as 10 miles away. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), you have a 1 in 3,000 chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime. One lightning bolt carries 15 million volts of electricity and while this type of weather-related injury is low, it can still cause painful injury and even death.
Many survivors of lightning strikes are left with debilitating injuries that could change them forever. Some injuries include electrical burns, deafness, brain injuries, memory loss, nerve damage, seizures. Many wonder what it is like being struck by lightning and, quite honestly, it varies. One survivor who was struck by lightning while horseback riding entered a trauma center with an abnormal heart rhythm, bleeding in the brain, bruising to the lungs, and damage to other organs, including his liver. Second- and third-degree burns covered nearly one-fifth of his body. Doctors put him into a chemically induced coma for nearly two weeks to allow his body to recover. While another survivor was immediately paralyzed when struck. Either way, it is important to do all you can to avoid being struck by lightning.
Keeping track of weather systems that may be in your area can help you and your family stay safe while outdoors. Remember, lightning can strike where storms are close to 10 miles away. As well, pay attention to signs that your body may be giving off. If your hair begins to tingle or the hair on your arms begins to stand up on its own, it is a sign that the air is electrically charged and lightning could be near. Moreover, if you hear thunder, it’s important to begin looking for an area to seek shelter.
There are five different ways of being struck by lightning:
- Direct strike – A person struck directly by lightning becomes a part of the main lightning discharge channel. Most often, direct strikes occur to victims who are in open areas. This is one of the most dangerous ways of being struck as it can travel through and damage your nervous and cardiovascular systems.
- Ground currents – This is the most common and another dangerous type of lightning strike and the leading cause of lightning-related injury and death. When lightning strikes a tree or other object, much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface.
- Conduction – Lightning can travel long distances in wires or other metal surfaces. Metal does not attract lightning, but it provides a path for the lightning to follow. Most indoor lightning casualties and some outdoor casualties are due to conduction. Avoid metal piping, faucets, sinks, or showers when lightning strikes – this includes doors and windows.
- Side flashes – A side flash (also called a side splash) occurs when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and a portion of the current jumps from a taller object to the victim. Structures such as telephone poles or trees are notorious for this type of lightning strike.
- Streamers – These energy bursts occur when the atmosphere is charged with electricity. Streamers develop as the downward-moving leader approaches the ground. Typically, only one of the streamers makes contact with the leader as it approaches the ground and provides the path for the bright return stroke; however, when the main channel discharges, so do all the other streamers in the area. If a person is part of one of these streamers, they could be killed or injured during the streamer discharge even though the lightning channel was not completed between the cloud and the upward streamer.
- Go indoors. If you hear lightning or feel it in the air (hair standing up on arm, skin starts to tingle, etc.) there is a chance of lightning, play it safe and go indoors until all danger passes.
- Your vehicle can make a good emergency shelter from lightning. Make sure windows are closed and do not touch anything metal. If your car is struck by lightning, it will travel through the metal and into the ground and pass by you harmlessly if you are not in contact with the metal areas of the vehicle.
- Avoid water, open areas, or caves. There are times where you may be unable to seek shelter, so knowing what to avoid could be the next best thing. If lightning has struck in your area, avoiding open areas, bodies of water and caves could be a lifesaver. Hiding in a cave entrance of an overhang seems like a logical solution, but in reality, you will be acting as a conductor and lightning can find you.
- Make yourself small. The tallest object around is the one most likely to be struck by lightning. Therefore, if you find yourself exposed and in an open field or hilltop, you could be in a dangerous situation. Get small! If you find yourself exposed to a lightning strike, shrinking your body and staying close to the ground could save your life. Simply, crouch down and put your head between your knees and cover your ears with your hands to avoid and prevent hearing loss.