We think we know lightning. But do we really? Let's explore -- and possibly quash -- several commonly held notions about Mother Nature's most fleeting fury.
As the old saying goes, old sayings are often baseless. Such would be the case for the idea that lightning 'doesn't strike the same place twice.' Oh yes it does – repeatedly.
For example, weather researchers told us lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York more than 100 times per year – every year.
Lightning takes the path of least resistance, and that is often tallest, pointiest thing around.
NO CLOUDS; NO LIGHTNING, RIGHT?
Ignore the thunder. We're safe when a thunderstorm is brewing off in the distance, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. And by "dead," we mean believing this myth could kill you.
Lightning bolts are not isolated the ominous thunderclouds that generate them. Researchers have witnessed lightning shooting 10 to 15 miles from clouds. That's clear across Tampa Bay if you'd like a gauge.
Say you're caught out standing in a field and the thunderstorm erupts. Some say lie down, so you're not the tallest thing around. But weather experts say that's flat wrong.
They recommend you keep moving away from the storm. They also warn that lying down only ends up increasing the amount of contact you make with the ground, which increases your risk of ground current that occurs when lightning strikes nearby.
If you blindly trust that you are 100-percent safe from lightning once you are inside a building, you are 100-percent mistaken. The immeasurable jolt of electricity that lightning creates will travel through most anything – including wiring that encases many homes and buildings.
During an electrical storm, it's best to avoid corded electronics, such as game consoles, hand tools, and land-line telephones.
Also stay away from windows. Although this is rare, scientists say lightning can, and has, slipped through cracked glass.
ONE MISSISSIPPI, TWO MISSISSIPPI…
After thunder bellows, can you really count Mississippis to figure out how far away lightning struck? Yes, you can.
Atmospheric scientists told us it's not a precise measure, but for every five Mississippis you say, the lightning is one mile away.
But remember, miles don't necessarily equal safety. See above.
The idea here is that -- despite its miles-long journey, its intense heat, and its killer power -- lightning can somehow be stopped by a mere half-inch or so of rubber rolling between you and the road.
It is possible to survive a lighting strike in a car. But tires are not your savior.
No, you have the car's metal body to thank. The frame conducts electricity and channels lightning to the ground, where the charge safely dissipates.
Your steel-belted, all-season radials are only the last part of that facet of physics.
DON'T TOUCH A STRIKE VICTIM
Some people think a lightning victim is electrified and that touching them will harm the rescuer.
That's fatally false.
First responders say you should immediately help a shock victim and call for help. It is possible that person will need CPR, and seconds will truly count. Waiting could cost them their life.
Sources: National Weather Service, Museum of Science and Industry, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
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