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Science, Maths & Technology

Lightning science

Updated Friday, 2nd June 2006

How to avoid being struck by lightning.

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The best way to survive a lightning strike is to avoid being hit in the first place.

Being a woman is a good start - you are four times less likely to be struck by lightning than a man. We are still investigating whether this is because women are inherently more sensible than men and do not hang about in thunderstorms or simply because men play too much golf.

Adam, despite being male, does have the advantage of living in the UK where only two people per ten million are killed by lightning annually. In Singapore it is a whopping seventeen people per ten million. In the USA you are three times more likely to be struck by lightning than in the UK.

Lightning kills by delivering a massive electric shock over a very short period, typically releasing around 300 kilowatts in just a few milliseconds. Heavy industrial electric shocks release only 20 kilowatts or so in perhaps half a second. No wonder about a fifth of those struck by lightning die.

If you can hear thunder you may be at risk from lightning and should seek shelter. Buildings, cars and buses are good places but do not touch metal objects or use the phone. Telephone boxes, isolated trees and open structures such as gazebos or porches are best avoided.

If you are far from any shelter, find a clump of shrubs of uniform height or a ditch or low ground, and bend down in a crouching position with your feet together and head down. Get at least 5 metres away from other people and move as far away from tall objects as possible.

Lightning conductors reduce susceptibility to lightning by allowing some of the negative charge from the clouds to discharge to the ground.

They also reduce damage to buildings if lightning does strike by providing a low resistance path so the harmful electrical current can travel to the ground safely. Tall rods connected to a big piece of copper or aluminium wire are attached to the highest point of the building. The wire is then connected to a conductive grid buried in the ground nearby giving a clear path for the charge to travel along without causing heat damage to the building.





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