Lightning Safety

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The last week has been one of the most lightning-packed in years around the Northwest and many local residents lack experience with lightning safety.   One blog reader told me how she and her friends were outside watching a lightning display and their hair started to stand on end, and then a lightning stroke hit nearby.  They are lucky to be alive.   If that happens to you remember that the danger is real and imminent.....move quickly to a safe location.

If your hair looks like this you either have a bad hairdresser or you are about to be hit by lightning.  Neither is good.

During the past week there have been thousands  f lightning strikes on trees, homes, and structures in our area.  The picture below shows what happened to a 125 ft tree in Lake Stevens when it was hit by lightning....split down the middle and is now kindling.

Standing under trees is a really bad idea during a thunderstorm--something I learned firsthand when I was an undergraduate at Cornell.  An intense thunderstorm hit the campus and some students in my dorm were watching from under a tree.  The tree was hit and several them were laid flat by the blast....they ended up in the hospital...and some of them were permanently affected.  Remember, if lightning strikes a tall object the current can descend the tree and jump to nearby objects (like YOU).  It can also reach the ground and spread around the wet surface.

If lighting is in the area, you are generally safe inside structures if you keep away from plumbing and electrical devices (no showers!, unplug your electronics and computers!).   Cars are good because even if they are hit, the current stays in the frame/body of the car.  If you are out in a field or level area, get away from trees or structures, find a low spot, and kneel or crouch down...DON'T lie flat on the ground---a nearby hit can send currents along the surface.  Covering your ears is not a bad idea either.

Official Lightning Position
There are few worse things to do in a lightning storm than play fields with lots of trees, cleated (grounded) shoes, lightning rod (golf club) in hand, optimize the danger.

Golf and Lightning Don't Mix
Some interesting lightning facts to keep you safe:

Lightning can and does strike the same place more than once.

Lightning can strike several miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud.  “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

You will not always have warning from thunder.   Here in the NW we often have thunderstorms with very few lightning strikes.   Also, depending on atmospheric conditions the thunder sound wave may not reach you or propagate above your head.

Today there are a number of downloadable smartphone apps that keep track of your position and will warn you when a lightning storm approaches.  (I have not reviewed any of them)

Lightning Finder

Tonight there is a dying thunderstorm over the eastern slopes of the Washington Cascades after a day of lots of lighting east of the Cascade crest.  But we are not out of the woods yet...another possible thunderstorm period late Thursday/early Friday.

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