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Lightning Safety

With thunderstorms in the forecast, now is the perfect time to learn about lightning safety. First, let's start with how lightning forms.

We have negative electrons on the base of the cloud, positive electrons near the ground. They'll form a stepped ladder or that's the zig zag shape we usually see lightning take. As these electrons grow closer together, an electrical current will flow. Now what do we see? We don't see the strike that goes from the cloud to the ground, we see the return strike. When that flickers, that process occurs over many times. All of this happens in less than a second. Pretty fascinating!

Well there are many types of lightning. Let's go over a couple. We see intracloud most frequently, so that's within the same cloud. There's also cloud to sky and cloud to cloud, which doesn't happen too often. Now we also see cloud to ground, but something interesting to note is the positive cloud to ground strike. Normally, that's a negative strike… it's around 300 million volts. Well the positive strike, that's one billion volts and that could be a little bit more deadly.

Now there can be many ways people can be struck by lightning. The first is the direct strike and that means you're the tallest object within an open field. Now the strike will go on the surface of your skin, causing burns. It will also go through you internally, that could damage your organs, as well and it is the most deadly type. The second is the side splash or flash. That's when it hits a tree and bounces off towards you. Usually you have to be a foot or two away from the tree and this occurs when you're usually trying to take shelter from a thunderstorm below a tree. Now a ground current will go through a tree and then through the ground. This can travel great distances and this is usually how people are struck by lightning.

Here's a look at lightning fatalities over the past 10 years. Last year, there were 17 fatalities. The dark blue is the male. Light blue is female. The data suggests more men die from lightning because they work outdoors.

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Joie Bettenhausen


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