Lightning Week 2013 Continues!
2013-06-28 18:17:28.000 – Luke Davis, Summit Intern
Developing Storms East of the Carter-Moriah Range
Yesterday’s clouds, seen in the attached photo, may not have produced any thunderstorms in our vicinity, but it demonstrates just how chaotic the weather can be in the summer time. With the chance for severe storms throughout the next several days, and as we’re approaching the first full weekend after most schools have finished classes, lightning safety is as important as ever.
The science behind the formation of lightning is not yet fully understood, but meteorologists and researchers today have a general understanding of the processes behind it. It involves the accrual of negative charges inside the storm cloud due to friction between colliding ice particles, and the ‘discharge’ of these negative charges into the upper reaches of the storm cloud, which becomes positively charged, or the Earth’s surface, where a positive charge is induced by the storm cloud.
As complicated as all this may be, it’s easy to understand the threat that lightning poses to us. Lightning kills 40-50 people in the United States per year — and those who enjoy outdoor recreation are at a much higher risk. Before heading out, it’s important to become aware of the threat for storms that day by checking your local weather forecasts using resources like weather.gov and wunderground.com. Be ready to postpone plans if there is the threat for lightning danger, and remember that if you can hear the storm rumble, you are close enough to be struck — so When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! One little known fact is that the strongest and most powerful strikes can hit as far as 10 miles away from their point of origin, due to this ‘discharge’ occurring between the upper reaches of the storm cloud and surfaces that are far away from the cloud base.
Knowing what to do if you find yourself unable to head indoors during a lightning storm, especially if you’re out in the open (e.g. while playing golf, or hiking above treeline), is crucial to reducing your risk of being struck. Lightning will prefer to hit taller structures within a horizontal distance roughly equal to that object’s height — and if you’re up to 60 feet from wherever the lightning hits, you may be shocked by an induced electric current that travels near the Earth’s surface. This ground current, rather than direct strikes, is by far the cause for most lightning injuries and fatalities. Therefore, the best way to prepare is to sit in a crouching position, with your feet close together, in the lowest area you can find, such as a ditch or trench, that is as far away as possible from any tall objects. Signs of an imminent lightning strike include hair standing on end, nearby snapping or crackling sounds, or an abnormal burning smell in the air. It should also be known that the human body will not remain electrically charged after being struck — so if someone is injured by lightning, they should receive medical attention as soon as possible.
You can find more information by checking out the National Weather Service’s page on lightning safety, found by following this link. Remember to stay safe while enjoying your summer!
Luke Davis, Summit Intern