What Is Lightning? Can You Survive A Lightning Strike?

Can You Survive A Lightning Strike? How?

In modern times, the notion of being struck by lightning has become quite a cliche. It carries connotations of an arbitrary, impossible-to-predict disaster that strikes “out of the blue” – it can’t be avoided or planned for.

In popular culture, it also connotes very specific divine retribution; whether it’s Zeus, Thor, or the God of the Bible, the supposition is that if you’re struck by lightning, it’s because you’ve displeased someone significant.

Thunderstorms do, however, occasionally occur. Injuries from lightning strikes are thought to affect up to 240,000 people worldwide each year. They are uncommon, but not as uncommon as you might think. Even though that only represents 0.0003% of the world’s population, it is a sizable number.

What is Lightning?

First off, the majority of us are probably already aware that lightning is an enormous electrical arc that extends from the clouds above to the ground. Unbeknownst to you, a massive buildup of electrical charge is what causes lightning. An enormous negative electrical charge eventually accumulates in the storm clouds above. A positive charge accumulates on the ground below. The electrical charge eventually builds up to the point where it can arc to the ground and discharge into the earth.

Have you ever experimented with static electricity? Maybe rubbing a balloon in someone’s hair and then pulling it away while watching the hair stick and then spark with electricity? Or perhaps you caught a child sliding down a plastic slippery dip and felt a tiny electrical shock as you did so, frequently accompanied by an audible crack sound? The same concept is present here, only much more so. A spark occurs when the charge in the clouds reaches a sufficient size, much like it might in a balloon. Except, in this case, the charge can be up to 30 million volts, and the “spark” is an electrical arc that can be many kilometers long.

The air is overheated by the electrical discharge and explodes outwards, causing thunder, which is brought on by lightning.

What Are the Chances of Getting Struck by Lightning?

Thunderstorm Weather

It should go without saying that an electrical charge in the clouds must have built up before lightning can occur. You already know it’s a possibility if you’ve seen lightning and thunder nearby. Counting the seconds between lightning and thunder is a useful trick. The distance between a lightning strike and you can be calculated by counting the seconds and dividing by three because sound travels at a speed of about 3 km per second.

Being the Highest Point

Lightning frequently flies to the highest point. In general, you are not in danger if you are next to a big building. On the other hand, if a thunderstorm occurs while you’re in the middle of an open field, things could get messy.

It’s important to remember that lightning doesn’t always strike the highest point. The path of least resistance, which might be a lower point with better electrical conductivity, is where it will move first. So, instead of striking a 3m brick building, it might strike a 2m metal fence.

Being Wet

A really good conductor of electricity is water. Your chances of being struck by lightning have increased if you were drenched to the skin in rain during a thunderstorm.

Can You Survive A Lightning Strike? How?

Can You Survive a Lightning Strike?

Instantaneous vaporization or incineration of the victim, leaving only a pair of smoking boots behind, is the cartoon cliché of a lightning strike. The reality is somewhat less dramatic. In actuality, 90% of those hurt by lightning survive. Those who do, however, frequently sustain serious injuries and persistent health problems for the rest of their lives.

Lightning strikes can result in some very unusual injuries because they contain a titanic amount of energy. Lightning passes through the body in a split second, but this is still long enough to cause severe burns throughout the body, including internal organs or veins and arteries through which the current has passed.

The brain and nervous system can suffer damage from electrical energy as well. This may result in seizures, heart failure, bone fractures, muscle damage, and cardiac arrest. The majority of people experience unconsciousness, and those who do wake up are frequently confused and lost. Even short-term paralysis may result from it. Air in the lungs can cause damage, and the thunderclap, which can be incredibly loud when lightning strikes, can harm hearing and the lungs.

Secondary damage from lightning strikes, such as shrapnel from exploding trees and fires started by lightning, can also be deadly.

How to Survive a Lightning Strike

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors

When thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, or the sky appears ominous, you should get inside as soon as you can.

The most crucial factor is that you are secure inside a sizable, well-constructed building or a fully enclosed, metal-topped vehicle. Outside of those two areas, there is no safe place to be.
According to Holle, a substantial building is one that has adequate plumbing and wiring. Lightning strikes can damage picnic shelters, tents, sheds, and dugouts.
This is due to the fact that when lightning strikes a house or other structure, the electricity passes safely through the plumbing and wiring to grounded rods that direct the electricity into the earth. No such safety is provided by a tent or other smaller shelter.
Without immediate access to a large building, you should immediately seek shelter in your car if you hear thunder while camping or at the beach.
The weather service advises against getting out of the car until 30 minutes have passed since the last time you heard thunder.
Riders on motorcycles or bikes who hear thunder should stop in front of a secure structure and wait until 30 minutes have passed since the last boom.

Avoiding Lightning Indoors

According to the National Weather Service, the next step is to close the windows and refrain from using corded electrical appliances.
When lightning strikes a home, you don’t want to be near wiring and plumbing, such as holding a wired phone or an appliance. Another risk is having your hands near moving water in the sink or bathtub.
The weather service advises against using balconies, porches, garages, windows, and exterior doors.
Additionally, if it’s unsafe for people to be outside during a storm, it’s also unsafe for pets. The weather service advises that as soon as you hear thunder, you should bring your pets inside. Dogs hung from trees are particularly at risk because dog houses do not offer lightning protection.

Can You Survive A Lightning Strike? How?

Save the Boat Trip for Another Day

According to the weather service, most large boats with cabins are fairly safe during a thunderstorm. It’s a different story for small boats without a cabin.

Small boats with NO cabins are the primary location of lightning-related injuries and fatalities on boats. When you are boating, it is imperative that you pay attention to the weather report.

When thunderstorms are predicted, the service advises people against boating. Get as far away from shore as you can if you hear thunder while you’re on the water, ideally at least 100 yards.

Drop anchor, dive as low as you can, and remain inside the cabin if you are unable to make it to land. Avoid touching any metal surfaces, such as the radio you may have been using to monitor the weather in the first place.

However, the weather agency advises staying in deep water during the storm rather than boarding if you’re not on the boat or the vessel doesn’t have a cabin.

The Bottom Line

The reality is that lightning can strike anywhere, especially outside. But refusing to leave the comfort of our homes would be crazy—and not very enjoyable.