Posted at 7:06 AM on April 22, 2008
by Paul Huttner
After a raucous night of booming thunder and springtime rain, we learned that 3 airport workers were struck by lightning last night while in their vehicle. They suffered only minor injuries apparently.
The fact that they were in their vehicle probably saved their lives.
All metal vehicles actually can provide additional lightning protection. That is, if the person inside is not in contact with any metallic objects connected to the exterior metal frame of the vehicle. The metal frame has a "skin effect" or partial "Faraday Effect" that dissipates the electrical charge from a lightning strike. Open top vehicles and convertibles do not provide this additional protection from lightning, and specific conditions have an effect on how much protection is provided.
Lighting is one of the top weather killers in the world each year. An average of 100 people are killed by lightning in the U.S. each year. 4 people were killed in Madison, Wisconsin last summer, and 1 person in Minnesota was killed by lighting last year. That death occurred near Bowstring Lake in Itasca County on June 8th.
For every person killed by lightning, another 10 are injured. Lightning injuries can have long lasting effects. A park ranger in North Carolina has been struck 7 times in his life.
Your chances of being hit by lighting are much higher than your chances of winning the lottery. Your odds of winning the lottery are often about 1 in 13 million. Your odds of being hit by lightning are closer to 1 in 280,000 according to the National Lightning Safety Institute.
Lighting is one of the most studied weather phenomena. Still, there is much to be learned. My friend Ron Holle in Tucson, Arizona has spent a lifetime studying lighting. He has seen documented lighting strikes on video over 30 miles away from storms. These "bolts from the blue" have blown people out of their running shoes miles away from storms.
People who know me well probably get tired of hearing me preach about lightning safety. I tell them it's the one element of thunderstorms I respect the most. Tornadoes get all the headlines, but you are far more likely to be struck by lightning than to ever even see a tornado.
Stay safe as you head outside this spring and summer, and enjoy our summer storms from a safe indoor viewing spot!