Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Just about everyday this month big clouds have darkened the sky, the thunder has begun to rumble and flashes of lighting have streaked from the heavens to strike the earth. It can make big dogs cower, brave men run for cover and small children hide under their blankets. And all for good reason.

Lightning is one of the most powerful forces on earth. A bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 130,000 miles per hour and reach temperatures of 54,000 F. On average, around 55 people are killed by lightning strikes per year in the United States. That is more than die in either tornados or hurricanes.

It is estimated that the odds of getting struck and killed by lightning are more than 1 in 700,000 but that doesn’t mean much to the 22 people who have died this year (as of July 28th) as a result of lightning strike in the U.S. William Carr, who was struck in Chaffee County on June 12 while riding his motorcycle, is the only reported fatality in Colorado so far in 2010.

If you are outside when a storm begins to brew and you hear thunder, know that lightning is close enough to strike. A storm as far as six miles away can create lightning strikes right where you are. If you see a strike and hear thunder within 30 seconds of the strike, then a storm is close enough to be dangerous. You should seek shelter immediately inside a home, or in a car. Experts say that safety is only assured if you stay in a shelter for 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.

Once you are inside stay off corded phones and computers that come in direct contact with electricity and avoid plumbing like sinks, baths and faucets. Telephone lines in particular can be a major source of electrical activity, and lightning can strike a pole and run through the lines. If you can, avoid concrete, which can conduct electricity through the rebar in the floors or walls.

If you can’t get to a shelter and are outside in a storm, get off hills and plateaus, don’t use a tree or a rocky overhang for shelter, and don’t lie flat on the ground. Basically you don’t want to be the highest point to the sky. And stay away from ponds or lakes.

Approximately half of all lightning fatalities occur to people who are under trees or near or on water. Avoid them in a lightening storm and your chances of being struck are considerably reduced.

None of this is meant to scare you away on a sunny day. Rather, it is just a reminder on these stormy days that it might be worth a second thought when you are out on the golf course or high on a hill to pay attention when the thunder starts.

Discretion and consideration can save a life.


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