SNYDER: When outdoors, treat lightning with respect

  • More than 20 million lightning strikes are recorded across the globe each year.
  • That equates to 50 to 100 strikes each second.
  • Each year in the United States, roughly 70 people die from lightning strikes.

It all starts the same.

On a gorgeous warm summer morning, you decide to leave the confines of a stuffy house to enjoy some time outside. The weather couldn’t be any better.

In the United States, roughly 70 people die from lightning strikes each year.

That is, until the afternoon. Then, around 3 p.m. you spot some clouds growing on the horizon. A half hour later, the clouds are right on top of you. They’re pitch black.

By 4 p.m. you’re in serious trouble. You're in the middle of a wicked summer thunderstorm. It's raining so hard you can’t see 50 feet in front of you. The thunder is deafening. And the lightning is blinding ... perhaps even deadly.

It’s a weather pattern we see every summer. In fact, more than 20 million strikes are recorded across the globe each year — that’s 50 to 100 strikes each second.

Lightning is extremely common, yet few people realize how dangerous it can be. Each year in the United States, roughly 70 people die as the result of a lightning strike. In most cases, the tragedy could have been avoidable.

Lightning is an extremely dangerous weather phenomenon. Each bolt contains 100 million volts of blood-boiling electricity and 10,000 nerve-exploding amps. A single bolt of lightning can extend for more than two miles and reach 50,000 degrees, five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

With statistics like that, it's no wonder the best solution for dealing with lightning is to avoid it at all costs. More often than not, that means seeking shelter long before a storm approaches.

The most-effective way to avoid a deadly storm is to keep a keen eye on the horizon. The instant you see trouble brewing, head for shelter. If you can hear thunder, lightning is within approximately 12 miles of you. You are in the danger zone.

The best kind of shelter to seek is any building with plumbing or electrical wiring. These features will help guide the huge jolt of electricity from a direct strike around you and not through you.

If a secure building is not available, go to your car. With four rubber tires insulating you from the ground, it's the next best choice.

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If that’s not available, well, you're in for a treat. Being stuck in the middle of an electrical storm is no picnic. Head for the lowest ground possible and roll into a ball. Don’t lie down. Kneel on your feet. The less your body contacts the ground, the better.

As most things do, electricity follows the past of least resistance. Unless we give it an excuse to strike us, lightning often finds a more efficient path.

When lightning is near, the idea is to be as non-conductive as possible. Stay away from trees, metal or anything else that is tall or conducts electricity. Being close to those objects gives the deadly beast all the excuse it needs to strike.

If you see lightning, don't worry about counting how many seconds elapses until you hear thunder. If you can hear it, you're too close. Get out of its way.

Lightning must be avoided at all costs. It’s scary stuff. Given the chance, it will kill you.

Treat it with respect and you have nothing to worry about on a hot, summer afternoon.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at