• Striking away lightning myths

    By: Megan McClellan



    Quick Facts

    As temperatures warm up, more time is being spent outside, especially on the water for summer vacation.

    Whether you are floating the river, hanging out on the lake, or going to the beach, it is important to know safety precautions to one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States.

    Lightning is one of the least understood weather phenomena.

    There are many lightning myths that you should be aware of:

    Lightning is a discharge of electricity between positively and negatively charged particles in the atmosphere. It can occur in the cloud and also between the cloud and the ground.

    How strong is this discharge of electricity? 

    Think about your house: the typical current that is in houses is around 120 Volts and 15 Amps; a lightning strike is about 300 million Volts and 30,000 Amps meaning that a lightning strike could light a 100-watt light bulb for about 3 months or a fluorescent bulb for 12 months.

    Not only is lightning very powerful, it is also very hot.

    As lightning moves through the atmosphere, the discharge of electricity heats up the air to around 5000° F. This is five times hotter than the sun!

    Over the weekend, someone was fishing in the Arkansas River when lightning struck him.

    Understanding the different ways to stay safe, how one could be struck, and what to do, are key and could save a life.

    Lightning deaths as of Sept 2, 2018
    Lightning deaths as of Sept 2, 2018
    Courtesy: Mapchart.net

    Planning ahead includes knowing the forecast and knowing where a safe place is if a thunderstorm threatens your plans. While outside, if the sky looks like a thunderstorm is approaching, it is best to go ahead and go inside.

    If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

    Getting inside and away from doors/windows is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting struck by lightning. 

    It is also important to remember once the storm clears, it is not necessarily safe to go outside. It is safe to go outside 30 minutes AFTER the last clap of thunder or the last lightning strike.

    There are 5 different ways to get struck by lightning:

    1. Direct Strike
      • A direct strike occurs when a person becomes part of the main discharge channel. This typically happens when people are in open areas.
      • A portion of the current moves along and just above the skin while another portion moves through the body via the nervous or cardiovascular system
      • Can cause burns on the skin or damage inside due to the current running through the body
    2. Side Flash
      • When lightning strikes a taller object near someone, a portion of the current can jump from the object to the person
        • The person is considered a "short circuit" with some of the energy discharge
      • Typically occurs when someone takes shelter under a tree from rain or hail. These are not considered a safe shelter.
    3. Ground Current (see picture of lightning strike on golf course)
      • When lightning a tall object, the current that is moving through the object will spread out along the ground, anyone outside near lightning could be a victim of this type of strike
      • This type of strike impacts a larger area thus causing the most lightning casualties
        • The lightning current enter the body at the point closest to the original lightning strike and leaves the body at the point farthest from the original strike after moving through the nervous or cardiovascular system.
        • The greater the distance between contact points, the higher possibility of death or serious injury

    4. Conduction
      • Lightning can travel along wires or other metal objects
      • Whether inside or outside, it possible to get struck by lightning through this current
      • If someone is in contact with an object that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets/showers, corded phones, etc, then they are at risk
    5. Streamers
      • Not as common as the others, but still possible
      • When the main channel discharges, the surrounding channels discharge as well, even if not connected to the main line
      • If someone is a part of the other channels, they will receive part of this discharge


    Want more information about lightning? Feel free to check out this website put together by the National Weather Service and NOAA.

    More myths and facts about lightning and lightning safety can be found here: Lightning Myths and Facts

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