A Bolt Out of the Blue…

Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster…

Lightning Safety Awareness Week is typically the last full week of June.

It makes sense because here in the USA, the months of July and August are the peak months for lightning.

I thought of that recently when I heard of the 3 people killed by lightning in our nation’s

Capitol the first week in August.

A Wisconsin couple and one other was killed during a thunderstorm that struck La Fayette Square just north of the White House.

It caught my attention because this couple was celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary with a trip to D.C. and my wife of 52+ years and I had just been to the nation’s Capitol earlier this year.

News reports indicate the victims were in the center of the park, near a grove of trees and about 100 feet away from an Andrew Jackson statue.

The National Lightning Detection Network reported “a 6 stroke flash near the White House that hit the same point on the ground.

That means six individual surges of electricity hit the same spot within half a second.

So, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice?

New York’s Empire State Building get’s zapped about two dozen times each year/

On average, about 2 dozen people are killed by lightning every year in the United States.

Worldwide, that number is about 2,000.

An actual lightning bolt travels at an estimated speed of 270,000 miles per hour.

That means it would take about 55 minutes to travel to the moon.

The Earth gets hit with roughly 1 billion, 400 million bolts of lightning each year.

Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela records the most lightning strikes than anywhere else on the planet.

With thunderstorms possible up to 160 days each year, Lake Maracaibo can record 28 strikes per minute up to 10 hours at a time.

When you see a bolt of lightning, it’s actually about the width of your thumb and it’s 3-5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.

That’s why when lightning strikes a beach or sandy soil, it can fuse grains together into a small, glass tube, called a “fulgurite”.

One bolt of lightning can pack up to a billion volts of electricity.

That’s the same amount of power as 79.4 million car batteries or 666 million AA batteries.

Florida is the state with the most lightning in the United States.

If you have lightning, you’ll will have thunder which is caused by the super-hot bolt passing through the air and the two sides of air coming back together.

See a flash of lightning?

Count the number of seconds until you hear the thunder and divide by 5 and that’s how far away that bolt was.

The old song used to tell us, “So when you here it thunder, don’t run under a tree”.

Lightning is attracted to “high things” so if you’re in a field, stay away from trees.

Dangerous places to be when lightning is around is in a boat, on a golf course, an open field and even your own yard.

If you’re stuck in an open place, “Get down!” and I don’t mean bust some funky moves.

The lower you are, the better.

For some reason, men are 81% more likely to be struck by lightning.

Tell that to park ranger Roy Sullivan who was struck 7 times in his life.

Most people survive a lightning strike but it can mess the old body up a bit.

I might be an amateur “fulminologist”.

That’s someone who studies lightning.

Now, I don’t have “astraphobia” which is the fear of lightning but I do have a healthy respect for it.

Years ago, while living in southern Alabama, one hot, sultry summer day a dark cloud moved over our neighborhood.

It looked like rain was a certainty but nary a drop fell.

Then there was a bright flash and a rumble of thunder.

And then another.

And another.

Four about 5 minutes I thought Mother Nature was having artillery practice.

The lightning was so bright, you could see it in your eyes seconds after the flash had gone away.

The thunder was ear-splitting.

This “dry” thunderstorm slowly moved away but not before a bolt of lightning struck an 80 foot tree in the park area near our home and stripped the bark clear to the ground.

One other time years later I was on a large ferry in Lake Erie when a thunderstorm with torrential downpours caught us.

I just remember seeing lightning bolts hitting in the water around us that I swear looked as big as tree trunks.

Again, the thunder was deafening.

There’s something very humbling about the power of a thunderstorm when you realize it’s just basically a lot of water vapor and electrical charges encased in clouds.

You don’t need to fear lightning, but you need to respect it and avoid putting yourself in harm’s way when storms approach.

In other words, don’t be standing in the fairway with your 9 iron aloft after nailing a perfect pitch on the green.

If it’s thundering, you should be in the “19th green” sipping a cold one.

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