Lightning Facts

Key Largo Thunderhead

A Massive Florida Thunderhead Releases its Energy

A few pertinent lightning facts can prove useful to the outdoors adventurer since lightning is potentially deadly, and it's part of our lives. 

Three Kinds of Lightning Strikes

There are essentially three kinds of lightning strikes: (1) a direct hit in which the big electric kaboom comes right down on you (2) a "splash" hit in which lightning strikes a nearby object and then arcs or "splashes" to a good conductor nearby, like maybe you, and (3) a ground current, whereby voltage travels out from the strike to energize the ground around it, as well as fences, a building's wiring or plumbing, and once again, maybe you if you're touching any of these things, including the ground.

A Few Facts About Seeking Shelter

To help protect yourself, seek shelter in a good solid building, preferably with wiring and/or plumbing, both of which help conduct a lightning strike safely to the ground. Just don't touch the wiring--including land line telephones--or the plumbing during the storm. No showers or washing dishes either. A car with a metal roof is a great shelter because if lightning strikes the car, the metal "cage" (the car's roof and sides) around you will conduct the current safely away from you. Just don't touch any metal within the car. A convertible or fiberglass car provides little, if any, protection because there's no metal cage around you. The car's rubber tires aren't much use against a 100-million-volt lightning strike that's five times hotter than the sun.

If outside and you can't find a suitable shelter (a flimsy bus stop or picnic shelter is no good), don't stand near tall, isolated trees or metal objects. Find a place in some low bushes, keep your feet together to help avoid ground current from passing through your body from one leg to the other, and crouch down to get as low as possible. If you can crouch on a sleeping pad or some other insulation to help protect you from ground current, that's even better. Such crouching is fatiguing after only a short time. If you have to, sit cross-legged on the pad. That's not as good as crouching, but it's better than nothing.

With Lightning, there are NO Guarantees

None of these actions guarantees total protection, but knowing these lightning facts helps you understand the proper precautions to take to reduce your chances of being hit.

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