Lightning is one of the most erratic and unpredictable parts of a thunderstorm. And even though it’s more prevalent in the spring and summer, lightning doesn’t have an off season. It’s always a possibility!
At CBG, we talk a lot about protecting sensitive equipment. But nothing is more sensitive than people. Here’s how to keep your most precious assets safe.
What is lightning?
Thunderstorms generate electricity as positively charged particles float to the top of the clouds and negative ones collect at the base. When the electrical field grows too strong, a flash of energy burns through the air at 60,000 miles per second to link the two regions.
Lightning can carry current of anywhere from 30,000 to 120,000 amps. That’s enough to kill you, melt your metal fence, and weld the gate shut.
Arkansas is ranked fifth in the country for lightning strikes. We average 799,034 strikes per year – 15 for every square mile. Check out how all the states rate. You can also see lightning as it’s happening with this real-time lightning map.
Stay safe in a thunderstorm
Thousands of people die each year from lightning. However, they aren’t typically struck during the worst of a thunderstorm. Instead, they’re hit before or after the storm reaches its greatest intensity. And the location can vary, too.
Lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm. These strikes are called “bolts from the blue.” But remember, thunder is seldom heard more than 10 miles away under ideal conditions. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance for lightning.
There’s no avoiding severe weather. But when you’re out and about in a storm, consider:
- Don’t touch concrete. Lightning can travel through the metal wires or rebar in concrete walls and flooring. It makes taking refuge in that basement or garage a little more complex.
- Think twice about your vehicle. If you’re in your car, roll the windows up. Avoid touching any conducting paths that lead outside of the vehicle. That means staying away from metal surfaces, the ignition, electronic devices plugged in for charging, etc.
Know lightning fact from fiction
So much of what we hear about lightning isn’t that accurate. Here are some of the more common tall tales we hear at CBG.
Myth: Rubber – like in shoe soles or in car tires – will protect you from lightning.
Fact: Nope. Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires won’t protect you. However, most vehicles with metal tops and sides can provide adequate shelter. That’s because the charge travels through the metal frame, eventually running into the ground. Just don’t touch anything inside the vehicle that conducts electricity. And if your vehicle is a convertible, motorcycle, open-shelled RV, or a car with a fiberglass shell? You have no protection from lightning.
Myth: Lightning never strikes twice.
Fact: If only! Lightning does strike twice – and three, four, five times. Case in point: Each year, the Empire State Building is struck by lightning about 100 times. Being tall, pointy, and isolated makes it more susceptible.
Myth: Lightning rods protect sensitive equipment from lightning.
Fact: If this were true, you wouldn’t need CBG. Lightning rods help direct strikes to avoid structural damage. However, they don’t protect sensitive equipment. That’s why we need surge protection devices. When used on electrical panels and communication lines, surge protectors can help protect delicate equipment.
Be smart about lightning. Protect yourself and your family with more tips from the National Weather Service. And for a detailed approach to implementing equipment protection, check out my Preventing Another No Good, Very Bad, Terrible Day blog.