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Lightning

08/15/08 7:55AM By Deborah Doyle-Schechtman
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(HOST) Writer and commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman says it's possible to be hit by lightning and live to tell the tale, but that it's much better to take precautions and avoid the experience altogether.     

(SCHECHTMAN) Along with the unprecedented number of thunderstorms and record rainfall we've been experiencing over the last few weeks have come some rather fascinating headlines about lightning stroke victims. Although a single lightning stroke, the official term used when describing what most of us would call a lightning
strike, can deliver a billion electron volts, 100,000 amps, and is hotter than the surface of the sun, only 10-20% of humans hit by lightning die. That means 80-90% of us live.   You'll notice I said us.  I became one of those statistics 12 months ago.  

According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the odds of being hit in any given year is one in 700,000, and in an 80 year lifetime, one in 5,000. A body doesn't have to be standing in an open field with a kite and a key to have the experience.  In my case I was alone at camp when I picked up the landline telephone one non-descript, albiet overcast morning last August.  The storm that created the stroke that hit me was well over 20 miles away. The resulting current of kilovolts washing over the surface of my body came and went within a few milliseconds.  I literally would have been less shocked if I had stuck my finger directly into a wall socket.

Initially I thought I was OK, but days later, when it became apparent that my discomfort wasn't abating, I went for a checkup.  Thing is, there're very few doctors in the world who are experts in keraunopathology, or post electrocution syndrome. Like thousands of other survivors, I had difficulty convincing the medical professionals I saw that the event actually took place.  

Lest a similar frustration, or worse, befall you, here are a few things that we've all undoubtedly heard before, but bear repeating. Lightning ALWAYS accompanies thunderstorms. So, when one threatens, know what to do. Get inside. Avoid windows, because believe it or not lightning can travel BETWEEN the molecules of glass.  Stay off the telephone.  If you're caught outside, don't stand under a tall isolated tree or telephone pole, because lightning is attracted to tall objects.  Avoid projecting above the surrounding landscape. In a forest, head for a low spot in a thicket of small trees.  In open areas, go to the lowest point, such as a ravine or valley, and if that's not an option, drop to your knees and bend forward putting your hands on your knees. By becoming more compact, you're less of a target. DO NOT lie flat on the ground, because doing so will expose your entire body to any current traveling on or below the earth's surface. Get off of - and away from - open water, tractors and other metal farm equipment - or small metal vehicles such as a motorcycle, bicycle, or golf cart. If on the golf course, put down your clubs and take off your golf shoes if they have metal cleats.  Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, railings, rails and metal pipes. Doing so could save your life.
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