When Lightning Strikes
by Kellie Underhill
When you were a kid did your parents ever do something really annoying or embarrassing? And when it happened, did you promise yourself that you’d NEVER do anything like that when you grew up? And now that you are an adult, (in physicality, if not spiritually) do you ever wonder at the things coming out of your mouth with disbelief because you sound so much like your mother or father?
Yeah, I know that feeling. It seems inevitable, doesn’t it — we all turn into our parents sooner or later no matter how much we try to go our own way. I realised the inevitable had happened to me a few years ago when I suddenly developed a keen interest in weather. My transformation seemed to happen overnight. One day I was whistling while I worked, minding my own business. And the next I was glued to the Environment Canada website. The inevitable had happened . . . with a slight twist — I had become my grandfather!
Need to know the driving conditions from Miramichi to Fredericton? Wondering whether to plan that outdoor party on the weekend? No need to investigate on your own, just ask me. I am the queen of weather. I became a weather-watcher during a particularly unstable spring, when the province was besieged by extreme conditions — thunder, lightning, hail, wind, rain, funnel clouds — I have a healthy respect for Mother Nature’s uncontrollable power and a little knowledge about her habits and trends seemed in order. Knowledge destroys fear.
Let’s talk about lightning. Do you know what to do when a storm is rolling in? Is it safe to watch the ballgame? Is it safe to watch a storm from your window? Do rubber tires offer protection from lightning when you’re in a car? If lightning strikes a metal object close by, will you be safe as long as you’re not touching it? Think you know the answers? Keep reading.
In Canada during the summer, lightning flashes about once every three seconds. Your odds of being struck by it are better than your odds of winning the lottery. I don’t say this to frighten you — odds of winning the lottery are so low they are termed as being “random.” Being struck by lightning is only slightly more likely to happen; about 75 people in Canada are struck each year. Still, even though it rarely happens, a bolt of lightning can be a million times more powerful than the electrical current in your house, making it a force that demands your attention and respect. Especially since Environment Canada scientists have identified Atlantic Canada as one of several lightning hot spots across the country.
So, do you know what to do when a storm is rolling in? If you thought you didn’t need to do anything until the storm is overhead, you’d be wrong. The fact is lightning can strike several kilometres from the storm. It’s possible to have clear blue skies overhead and still have a lightning strike. So keep your eyes on the sky and if you see dark, heavy clouds or lightning flashes in the distance seek shelter. Whenever you hear thunder, even if the sky directly overhead is clear, take precaution.
It is not safe to watch the ballgame. In fact, you should disconnect all your electrical appliances including the television. You should also avoid talking on the telephone or using the water taps. And don’t stand in the window watching the storm. Close all the windows and doors and then stay away from them until the storm has passed. If you can’t get to a sturdy shelter like your home or another building, stay in your car. The rubber tires won’t offer any protection but the body of the car will, as long as it’s not a convertible. You’ll be safe inside a vehicle that is all metal because lightning moves over the outer surface of metal objects. But keep your hands in your lap and don’t touch anything metal inside. Park away from trees and power lines, and if a power line does come down on or near your car, stay inside your vehicle.
If you can’t get to your car and get caught out in the open, seek shelter in low-lying areas like valleys or ditches. Stay away from trees, towers and any tall structures. Avoid high ground and open fields. Crouch, don’t lie flat and if you’re in a group spread out several metres apart. Power lines, tall objects, high places and bodies of water attract electricity and lightning. And so do metal items like golf clubs, fishing rods and bicycles. Avoid using them during a storm because they will conduct electricity. Never get closer than 30 metres to a metal fence during a storm and if your shoes have metal cleats, take them off.
Lightning can be very beautiful to watch, but remember that it is a powerful force of nature and take the proper precautions to ensure your safety and that of your loved ones.For more safety tips, detailed maps of Canada’s hot spots for lightning, your local weather forecast and much more visit Environment Canada’s weather website.
Kellie Underhill is the editor of Bread ‘n Molasses magazine as well as the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s quarterly newsletter, NB Ink. Her writing has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including The Moncton Times-Transcript, Brunswick Business Journal and The New Brunswick Reader magazine. Email Kellie at firstname.lastname@example.org