Thunderbolts and lightning can be very frightening, but how best to stay safe when a storm breaks?
The recent hot weather has led to thunderstorms.
Thunderstorms are short, sharp and shocking – for some literally. For if you can hear the clouds rumbling, chances are the storm is close enough to for you to be struck by lightning – it can strike up to 10 miles away from the centre of a storm.
Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder – if it’s less than 30 seconds, there’s a threat.
If thunderstorms are forecast, postpone or cancel outdoor activities – especially golf and rod fishing. If a storm is approaching, take cover inside or in a car with the windows wound up – sheds, isolated trees and convertibles do not afford sufficient protection.
Boaters and swimmers should get to shore as quickly as possible, as water conducts electricity. So too do metal pipes and phone lines. Only make calls in an emergency, and best put off baths, showers and dish washing, in case lightning strikes the house and sends a jolt of electricity through the metal plumbing.
The Met Office also advises unplugging appliances, as lightning can cause power surges. If the lights go out, use a torch, rather than the naked flame of a candle. For this would pose quite a nasty fire risk.
If caught outside in a thunderstorm, find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. If your skin tingles and hair stands on end lightning is about to strike. Crouch down, balancing on the balls of your feet, placing hands on knees with head between them. This makes you into the smallest target possible, and minimises contact with the ground.
Do not put up an umbrella or use a mobile phone – the metal directs the current into the body. The British Medical Journal illustrated the dangers with the case of a 15-year-old struck while using her mobile – she suffered a cardiac arrest, burst eardrum and a year on she has to use a wheelchair.
If someone has been hit by lightning, call for help as they’ll need urgent medical attention. It’s safe to touch them – people struck by lightning carry no electrical charge that can shock other people.
Check for a pulse and for breathing – if you know first aid, begin artificial respiration and CPR if necessary. If they’re breathing, check for other possible injuries. Lightning strike victims have burns in two places – where the electric shock entered and then left the body, usually the soles of the feet. They may have broken bones or loss of hearing or sight.
Be wary of venturing out too soon – the BBC Weather Centre advises waiting 30 minutes after the last flash, as over half of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed.
While the forecast storms will bring much-needed rain to the parched South, the sudden dump of water poses the risk of flash flooding. If waters start to rise, head for higher ground. Don’t try to drive to safety, as most flash flood deaths occur in vehicles.
And one final tip – it’s a myth that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Now be careful & stay safe out there.