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14 September 2011

Beware ..... Lightning Kills!!

Image: SAWS (Lightning map 14 September 2011 -  07h50 SAST)

Spring and Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning. But don't be fooled, lightning strikes year round.

Hundreds of people are permanently injured each year. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

Lightning is one of nature's most awe inspiring and dangerous phenomenon. The average lightning flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months! The temperature of a lightning bolt may reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit which is hotter than the surface of the sun!

Image: Charl Strydom (Click on image for larger view.)

A few simple precautions can reduce many of the dangers posed by lightning.

Do you hear it?

Once you hear thunder, it is time to act to prevent being struck by lightning. Generally speakingonce you can see lightning or hear thunder, you're already at risk for lightning injury or death. If the time delay between seeing the flash (lightning) and hearing the bang (thunder) is less than 30 seconds, immediately seek a safer location.

Avoid being in or near

High places and open fields, isolated trees, gazebos, open sided picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, communication towers, flagpoles, light poles, bleachers (metal or wood), metal fences, convertibles, golf carts, water (ocean, lakes, swimming pools, rivers, etc.)

When inside a building AVOID:

Use of the telephone or computer, taking a shower, washing your hands, doing dishes, or any contact with conductive surfaces with exposure to the outside such as metal door or window frames, electrical wiring, telephone wiring, cable TV wiring, plumbing, etc.

If driving:

Stay in your automobile. An enclosed automobile offers reasonably good protection from lightning, as long as you don't touch metal.

Pay attention to weather and lightning warnings by the SA Weather and Disaster Information Service and local weather forecasts should be monitored prior to any outdoor event to determine if thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Few people really understand the dangers of lightning. Many people don’t act to protect their lives, property, and the lives of others promptly because they don’t understand all the dangers associated with thunderstorms and lightning. The first step in solving this problem is to educate people so that they become aware of the behavior that puts them at risk of being struck by lightning, and to let them know what they can do to reduce that risk. Sport coaches and other adults who make decisions affecting the safety of children must understand the dangers of lightning.

Lightning is a dangerous threat to people in South Africa, particularly those outside in the spring and summer. With common sense, we can greatly reduce the number of lightning deaths in South Africa. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place, stay there longer than you think you need to, stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. The SAWDIS will post educational articles throughout the summer to focus the public's attention on the dangers of lightning. Have a safe and enjoyable spring and summer season!