Lightning captured from Milton Rd, Lismore Heights.
Lightning captured from Milton Rd, Lismore Heights. PM Photography

How to protect yourself during a lightning storm

BEING "struck by lightning" seems like a remote possibility but the fact is it does happen, and it is usually avoidable when it does.

A direct strike is actually the cause of only about 4% of all lightning casualties.

The other 94% happen via electricity jumping from a struck object through the air or travelling through conductors, or even the ground to pass through someone.

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So you don't have to get directly struck by lightning to be injured.

Obviously the first rule of thumb when it comes to staying safe from lightning to avoid being outdoors. But don't be complacent when you're indoors either - you can still get electrocuted in the safety of your own home.

INDOOR SAFETY

When lightning strikes an enclosed dwelling, the 100 million volts of electricity will travel through the walls, wiring, and plumbing in order to get to the ground as quickly as possible.

This means if you are using wired appliances, touching window frames, using a landline phone, or taking a shower or washing dishes when lightning strikes, you can be killed.

In the US, telephone workers actually make up 4% of deaths from lightning strikes.

The rule is simple: If you are in a lighting storm, and unplug all appliances, and don't use running water, and stay away from windows (preferably close them).

Obviously, get out your pool. A simple rule of thumb is if you are aware of an approaching storm is if you can hear thunder you are in potential danger.

More specifically if you see lightning and hear thunder within 30 seconds then the lighting is within 10-15km and could strike you next.

 

Lightning from Pat Moreton Lookout, Lennox Head, by Antonio Parancin, North Coast Storm Chasers.
Lightning from Pat Moreton Lookout, Lennox Head, by Antonio Parancin, North Coast Storm Chasers.

OUTDOOR SAFETY

Do not hide under an "open" shelter - in other words something with a roof but no walls. The heat from the lightning can still kill you. Remember, it is five times hotter than the sun.

The safest place if outdoors to shelter is your car.

A car acts similar to an enclosed shelter whereby when the lightning strikes, it travels through the car's metal cage to the ground. (Contrary to popular belief, the rubber tyres achieve nothing).

But you can still get electrocuted if you are touching the sides of the car or the steering wheel.

According to US website Lightingsafety.com, "a person inside a fully enclosed metal vehicle must not be touching metallic objects referenced to the outside of the car.

"Door and window handles, radio dials, CB microphones, gearshifts, steering wheels, and other inside-to-outside metal objects should be left alone during close-in lightning events.

"We suggest pulling off to the side of the road in a safe manner, turning on the emergency blinkers, turning off the engine, putting one's hands in one's lap, and waiting out the storm."

 

Lightning on Monday night, 5th December, 2016.
Lightning on Monday night, 5th December, 2016. Aaron Keevers

TENTS

In Australia we love our camping, but on the Northern Rivers it happens that a great time of year for camping overlaps with the storm season.

The fact is that tents are not safe from lightning strikes.

That's why if you are car camping, you should plan for lighting storms and commit to sleeping in your car for the duration of the storm, if not the entire night.

If the storm is brief, you should wait for 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before it is safe to exit your car.

NO CAR?

If you don't have access to a car, you are in the most dangerous position. There are no safe ways of avoiding a lightning strike in the open.

But there are still some ways to cut down your chances of getting struck.

Firstly, never take shelter next to a tree.

 

Cattle farmer Neville Bryant found eleven dead cattle on his farm at Tuncester after a storm in January 2015. He thinks they died from lightning strike. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Cattle farmer Neville Bryant found eleven dead cattle on his farm at Tuncester after a storm in January 2015. He thinks they died from lightning strike. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

If it is hit, the sap in trees will explode into a super-hot gas, the tree will shatter, and you will almost certainly die.

Contrary to popular view, lighting can strike low or high places during a lightning storm - although it is more likely to strike higher places.

That means on balance, you can stay in lower places to reduce your chances of getting hit.

So stay out of areas with tall trees and other tall objects. Also stay away from any water.

According to wildbackpacker.com, "look for a dry, low-lying area such as a valley and become the smallest target possible.

"Do this by crouching down with your heels touching, head between the knees, and ears covered. Minimize your contact with the ground and do not lie down flat."

WARNINGS SIGNS

If you are outside and you sense a tingling on your skin and your hair standing on end, you are in immediate danger of a strike.

IMPORTANT FACTS

  • 90% of people survive lightning exposure, nut 80% of those survivors are left with permanent physiological and/or neurological damage.
  • There are up to 100 million volts of electricity in a lightning strike and it is five times hotter than the sun

According to website Lightningman.com.au, you should avoid these during a lightning storm if possible:

. Flammable hydrocarbons and accelerants 

. Standing near a Lightning protection down-conductor, mast, or earthing system.

. Communications towers, and tall metallic masts

. Any use of fixed line telephones, especially corded headsets. (Cordless & mobile excluded)

. Metal hair clips, metal clips on helmets, keys in pockets etc.

. Umbrellas

. Small, unprotected buildings, barns, sheds

. Areas on tops of buildings

. Open fields, sports arenas, golf courses, car parks

. Swimming pools, lakes, seashores

. Areas near wire fences, clothes lines, overhead wires, pipelines and railroad tracks

. Standing beneath isolated trees, or touching or standing near any tree

. Riding/driving tractors or other open roof farm machinery, golf carts, bicycles, horse riding or motorcycles, non-metal top or open automobiles

. Contact with metal objects and electrical appliances

. Hilltops and ridges

. Tents

. Showering



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