We’ve all seen artistic representations of founding father Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm, with a metal key attached to silk ribbon. Using his highly scientific mind, Franklin designed this experiment in order to prove that lightning was static electricity. Indeed, lightning results from the buildup and release of electrical energy involving positive and negative charges between the earth and the clouds. A single lightning strike produces a current of 30,000 – 50,000 amps, can be as hot as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and unleashes as much energy as blowing up a ton of TNT.
The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. It is estimated that at any given time, there are over 2,000 thunderstorms occurring worldwide, with each one producing over 100 lightning strikes a second. Since 2000, lightning has been the number two weather-related killer in Georgia, behind tornadoes. Lightning kills one to two people in Georgia each year and injures an average of 12 people. The National Weather Service reports that deaths from lightning strikes averaged 33 a year from 2004 to 2013 and, going back over the last 30 years, an average of 51 people died each year after being hit by lightning. Most lightning deaths occur in the summer months, in the afternoon or evening hours, and when people are caught outside.
“Heat lightning” is just lightning from a thunderstorm that is too far away for any thunder to be heard, and it is just as dangerous as “regular” lightning. Lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm and can potentially strike more than one person at a time. For those who survive a lightning strike, there can be long-term effects, including memory loss, attention deficit, sleep disorders, joint stiffness, irritability, fatigue, numbness, dizziness, weakness, muscle spasms and depression. Georgia has also been ranked first in the country over the last three years for lightning strike insurance claims, most of which were surge- or power-related.
Protect yourself and your family by being prepared today. Here are a few tips to remember:
- Seek shelter at the first indication of a thunderstorm and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. A sturdy, enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring is safest, but if one is not available, most enclosed metal vehicles are safe alternatives.
- If you are boating or swimming, get to land as quickly as possible.
- Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity (cordless phones and cell phones that are not being charged are safe to use).
- Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Unplug appliances and turn off the air conditioner.
- Stay away from windows, doors and porches.
- Do not touch concrete (lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring).
- If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter. As you move, you can reduce your risk by not lying flat on the ground, not hiding under a rocky overhang, not stopping under an isolated tree, not being on elevated areas and not being near metal objects.
Metal does not attract lightning, but it does conduct electricity. Rather, an object’s height, shape and isolation are the dominant factors that affect its likelihood of being struck by lightning. Lightning will usually strike the highest object in an area. This includes trees, antennas, a boat on a pond or a person standing in a field. It also will strike the same object repeatedly. For example, the Empire State Building is struck by lightning nearly 100 times each year. It is important to remember that the human body does not store electricity, and lightning victims require immediate medical attention. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim in order to give them first aid.
If lightning has injured you or damaged your property, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Macon, GA-based Mann Law Firm. We are ready to provide you with a free and confidential initial consultation. Contact us by calling (478) 742-3381, or use our online form.