Lightning Safety and Awareness

 Much like flash flooding, lightning doesn't get the respect it deserves.  By that I mean most people don't think they will be the one to fall victim to it.  The problem with that thinking is that both of those weather forces are pretty unforgiving if you encounter them.  This week, is Lightning Safety and Awareness Week.  We will be posting information provided by the National Weather Service, detailing how to understand and develop a better respect for lightning.  I have listed two topics below and will post others throughout the week.  The following information is courtesy of the National Weather Service Office in Pueblo.  Remember if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck... 

Lightning Overview

JUNE 22ND THROUGH 28TH HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS COLORADO LIGHTNING SAFETY AND WILDFIRE AWARENESS WEEK.

IN THE UNITED STATES...THERE ARE AN ESTIMATED 25 MILLION CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING FLASHES EACH YEAR...AND EACH ONE IS A POTENTIAL THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY.  AN AVERAGE OF 62 PEOPLE ARE KILLED EACH YEAR BY LIGHTNING.  IN 2007...45 PEOPLE WERE KILLED BY LIGHTNING IN THE US.  HUNDREDS OF OTHERS WERE INJURED.  COLORADO HAD TWO LIGHTNING DEATHS AND SIX INJURIES.  DURING THE PAST 20 YEARS...ON AVERAGE...COLORADO HAD THREE LIGHTNING DEATHS AND 16 INJURIES ANNUALLY.  IN THE US DURING 2007...OF THE VICTIMS WHO WERE KILLED...98 PERCENT WERE OUTDOORS...89 PERCENT WERE MALE...30 PERCENT WERE MALES FROM 20 TO 25 YEARS OF AGE...25 PERCENT WERE STANDING UNDERNEATH A TREE...25 PERCENT OCCURRED ON OR NEAR THE WATER.

MANY PEOPLE DO NOT ACT IN A TIMELY MANNER TO PROTECT THEIR LIVES AND PROPERTY...AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND ALL THE DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH THUNDERSTORMS AND LIGHTNING.

YOU NEED TO BECOME AWARE OF THE SITUATIONS THAT PUT YOU AT A GREATER RISK OF BEING STRUCK BY LIGHTNING...AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE THAT RISK. WHILE NEARLY ALL PEOPLE TAKE SOME PROTECTIVE ACTIONS WHEN RAIN...HAIL AND WIND ARE OCCURRING WITH THUNDERSTORMS...MANY LEAVE THEMSELVES VULNERABLE TO BEING STRUCK BY LIGHTNING AS THUNDERSTORMS APPROACH... DEPART...OR ARE NEARBY.  LIGHTNING CAN STRIKE 10 MILES AWAY OR FARTHER FROM THE RAIN AREA OF A THUNDERSTORM.  THAT DISTANCE IS ABOUT AS FAR AS YOU CAN HEAR THUNDER.  IF YOU CAN HEAR THUNDER...YOU COULD BE IN DANGER OF BEING STRUCK BY LIGHTNING.

INSIDE BUILDINGS...YOU MUST AVOID ACTIVITIES WHICH PUT YOUR LIFE AT RISK FROM A POSSIBLE LIGHTNING STRIKE. YOU SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS AND DOORS AND AVOID CONTACT WITH ANYTHING THAT CONDUCTS ELECTRICITY WELL.  YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO TAKE CERTAIN ACTIONS WELL BEFORE THE STORM THREATENS...IN ORDER TO PROTECT PROPERTY...SUCH AS UNPLUGGING ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT.

ALSO...IN THE UNFORTUNATE EVENT THAT A PERSON IS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING...MEDICAL CARE MAY BE NEEDED IMMEDIATELY TO SAVE THE LIFE OF THE PERSON.  CARDIAC ARREST AND HEART IRREGULARITIES...BURNS...AND NERVE DAMAGE ARE COMMON WHEN PEOPLE ARE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING.  HOWEVER...WITH PROPER TREATMENT...INCLUDING CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION IF NECESSARY...MOST VICTIMS SURVIVE A LIGHTNING STRIKE...ALTHOUGH THE LONG TERM EFFECTS ON THEIR LIVES CAN BE DEVASTATING.

MOST LIGHTNING DEATHS AND INJURIES OCCUR DURING THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING...WHEN LIGHTNING IS MOST LIKELY TO OCCUR AND WHEN PEOPLE ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE CAUGHT OUTSIDE.

THE CHANCE THAT YOU WILL BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING IN THE UNITED STATES IS ABOUT 1 IN 700,000 FOR EACH YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. HOWEVER...YOUR CHANCE OF BEING STRUCK WILL DEPEND ON WHETHER YOU CONSISTENTLY PRACTICE ALL THE LIGHTNING SAFETY RULES.

LIGHTNING STARTS AROUND HALF OF THE FOREST AND RANGELAND WILDFIRES ACROSS THE STATE.  COLORADO AVERAGES AROUND 2500 WILDFIRES EACH YEAR.  MANY OF THESE LIGHTNING CAUSED FIRES OCCUR WITH VERY LITTLE OR NO RAIN.  THESE STORMS OFTEN GENERATE GUSTY WINDS...WHICH CAN FAN THE FLAMES OF THE FIRE.  NOAAS NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PROVIDES DAILY FIRE WEATHER
FORECASTS DURING THE WARM SEASON...AND SPOT FIRE WEATHER FORECASTS FOR THOSE WORKING PRESCRIBED BURNS AND WILDFIRES YEAR AROUND.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LIGHTNING OR LIGHTNING SAFETY...VISIT NOAAS LIGHTNING SAFETY AWARENESS WEB SITE AT...

HTTP://WWW.LIGHTNINGSAFETY.NOAA.GOV 

OR THE LIGHTNING WEB SITE OF NOAAS NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN PUEBLO AT...

HTTP://WWW.WEATHER.GOV/PUB/?N=LTG.PHP 

The Science of Thunderstorms and Lightning

 COLORADO LIGHTNING SAFETY AND WILDFIRE AWARENESS WEEK CONTINUES THROUGH THIS SATURDAY.  A PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT WILL BE ISSUED EACH DAY ON A DIFFERENT LIGHTNING TOPIC.  TODAY WE DISCUSS THE SCIENCE OF LIGHTNING. 

...UNDERSTANDING THE SCIENCE OF THUNDERSTORMS AND LIGHTNING...

 EVERY THUNDERSTORM PRODUCES LIGHTNING.  LIGHTNING IS A GIANT SPARK THAT MOVES WITHIN THE CLOUD...BETWEEN CLOUDS...OR BETWEEN THE CLOUD AND THE GROUND.  AS LIGHTNING PASSES THROUGH THE AIR...IT HEATS THE AIR RAPIDLY TO A TEMPERATURE OF ABOUT 50 THOUSAND DEGREES FAHRENHEIT...WHICH CAUSES A RAPID EXPANSION OF THE AIR NEAR THE LIGHTNING CHANNEL.  THIS RAPID EXPANSION CAUSES A SHOCK WAVE THAT WE HEAR AS THUNDER.

  THUNDERSTORMS WILL FORM IF THERE IS ENOUGH MOISTURE AND INSTABILITY IN THE ATMOSPHERE. AS THE SUN WARMS THE AIR NEAR THE GROUND...POCKETS OF WARMER AIR BEGIN TO RISE AND COOL. CONDENSATION OF WATER VAPOR CAUSES CUMULUS CLOUDS TO FORM.  CONTINUED HEATING CAN CAUSE THESE CLOUDS TO CONTINUE TO GROW UPWARD INTO THE ATMOSPHERE.  THESE TOWERING CUMULUS CLOUDS MAY BE ONE OF THE FIRST INDICATIONS OF A DEVELOPING THUNDER- STORM.  THE MATURE THUNDERSTORM HAS BOTH AN UPDRAFT OF RISING MOTION AND A DOWNDRAFT OF SINKING COOL AIR ACCOMPANIED BY RAIN AND SOMETIMES HAIL.  

 THUNDERSTORMS GROW TENS OF THOUSANDS OF FEET INTO THE ATMOSPHERE. IN THE CLOUD...PRECIPITATION FORMS AS ICE CRYSTALS...HAIL...AND RAIN.  COLLISIONS BETWEEN ICE PARTICLES CAUSES A CHARGE SEPARATION...AND POSITIVELY CHARGED ICE CRYSTALS ARE CARRIED BY THE UPDRAFT HIGH IN THE THUNDERSTORM. THE HEAVIER HAIL GATHERS A NEGATIVE CHARGE AND FALLS TOWARD THE LOWER PART OF THE STORM.  THE TOP OF THE CLOUD BECOMES POSITIVELY CHARGED AND THE LOWER PART OF THE STORM BECOMES NEGATIVELY CHARGED. 

NORMALLY THE EARTHS SURFACE HAS A SLIGHT NEGATIVE CHARGE.   AS THE NEGATIVE CHARGES BUILD UP IN THE LOWER PART OF THE STORM...THE GROUND NEAR THE THUNDERSTORM BECOMES POSITIVELY CHARGED.  AS THE CLOUD MOVES...THESE INDUCED POSITIVE CHARGES ON THE GROUND FOLLOW THE CLOUD LIKE A SHADOW.  FARTHER AWAY FROM THE CLOUD BASE...BUT UNDER THE POSITIVELY CHARGED ANVIL...A STRONGER NEGATIVE CHARGE MAY BE INDUCED.

AIR NORMALLY ACTS AS AN INSULATOR.  WHEN THE ELECTRICAL POTENTIAL BETWEEN THE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE CHARGES BECOMES TOO GREAT...THERE IS A DISCHARGE OF ELECTRICITY THAT WE KNOW AS LIGHTNING.

  CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING CAN EITHER BE A NEGATIVELY CHARGED FLASH OR A POSITIVELY CHARGED FLASH.  THE NEGATIVE FLASH USUALLY OCCURS BETWEEN THE NEGATIVE CHARGES IN THE LOWER PART OF THE STORM AND THE POSITIVE CHARGES ON THE GROUND UNDER AND NEAR THE CLOUD BASE.  POSITIVE FLASHES USUALLY OCCUR BETWEEN THE POSITIVELY CHARGED UPPER LEVELS OF THE STORM AND THE NEGATIVELY CHARGED AREA SURROUNDING THE STORM.

 IN THE NEGATIVE CLOUD TO GROUND FLASH...AN INVISIBLE...NEGATIVELY CHARGED STEP LEADER FORMS NEAR THE CLOUD BASE AND SURGES DOWNWARD TOWARD THE GROUND.  AS THIS STEP LEADER APPROACHES THE GROUND... STREAMERS OF POSITIVE CHARGE MOVE UPWARD FROM TREES...BUILDINGS...AND OTHER OBJECTS ON THE GROUND.  WHEN THESE STREAMERS MEET THE STEP LEADER...THE CONNECTION IS COMPLETE...AND A SURGE OF ELECTRICAL CURRENT MOVES FROM THE GROUND TO THE CLOUD CAUSING THE VISIBLE RETURN STROKE THAT WE CALL LIGHTNING.  THE ENTIRE PROCESS TAKES PLACE IN FRACTIONS OF A SECOND.  IF YOU ARE UNDER A THUNDERSTORM AND YOUR HAIR RISES...YOU ARE IN AN AREA WHERE THE POSITIVE CHARGES ARE RISING UP OBJECTS TOWARDS THE STORM. IT IS A DANGEROUS LOCATION...BECAUSE LIGHTNING MAY BE ABOUT TO STRIKE.   

THE PROCESS FOR A POSITIVE FLASH IS SIMILAR EXCEPT THAT A POSITIVE CHANNEL USUALLY ORIGINATES IN THE ANVIL OF THE STORM AND SURGES DOWNWARD.  IN THIS CASE...STREAMERS OF NEGATIVE CHARGE SHOOT UP TO MEET THE POSITIVELY CHARGED CHANNEL AS IT APPROACHES THE GROUND. WHEN A CONNECTION IS MADE...A POSITIVE FLASH OF LIGHTNING OCCURS.

WHILE BOTH NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE FLASHES OF LIGHTNING CAN BE DEADLY... THE POSITIVE FLASHES GENERALLY ARE MORE DESTRUCTIVE AND ARE MORE APT TO CATCH PEOPLE BY SURPRISE. POSITIVE FLASHES ARE INFREQUENT AND MAY STRIKE THE GROUND MILES FROM THE MAIN PART OF THE STORM.  THE POSITIVE FLASHES MAY INVOLVE THE EXCHANGE OF A MUCH GREATER CHARGE AND ARE USUALLY MORE DESTRUCTIVE.  POSITIVE FLASHES ALSO STRIKE WELL BEYOND THE AREA WHERE RAIN IS FALLING...AND AWAY FROM THE BULK OF THE LIGHTNING.  CONSEQUENTLY...MANY VICTIMS OF POSITIVE LIGHTNING STRIKES ARE CAUGHT COMPLETELY OFF GUARD.

THE BEST ADVICE IN ORDER TO MINIMIZE YOUR RISK OF BECOMING A LIGHTNING VICTIM IS TO GET TO A SAFE SHELTER SOONER AND TO STAY THERE LONGER.  IN GENERAL...IF YOU CAN HEAR THUNDER...YOU ARE WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE OF THE STORM.

LIGHTNING QUESTION OF THE DAY...

HOW CAN YOU TELL HOW FAR A FLASH OF LIGHTNING IS AWAY FROM YOU.

ANSWER...

WHILE YOU SEE THE VISIBLE FLASH OF LIGHTNING ALMOST INSTANTANEOUSLY... THE SOUND OF THE THUNDER TRAVELS AT A SPEED OF ABOUT 1 MILE IN 5 SECONDS.  FOR EVERY 5 SECONDS BETWEEN THE TIME YOU OBSERVE THE LIGHTNING AND THE TIME YOU HEAR THE THUNDER...THE LIGHTNING FLASH IS 1 MILE AWAY.  FOR EXAMPLE...IF IT TAKES 10 SECONDS BETWEEN THE LIGHTNING FLASH AND THE THUNDER...THE LIGHTNING FLASH WAS 2 MILES AWAY.

 FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LIGHTNING OR LIGHTNING SAFETY, VISIT NOAA'S LIGHTNING SAFETY AWARENESS WEB SITE

 

 

 

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