Deadly currents

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Posted: Jun 25, 2014 10:23 AM by Meteorologist Josh Eachus
Updated: Jun 25, 2014 10:23 AM

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Topics: weather, storms, lightning, safety

Lightning is a deadly and unpredictable electrical current. However, realizing that there are many ways to be struck by lightning may help you make decisions in a thunderstorm that reduce your chances of being hit. Any type of strike can be deadly. If someone is hit, they should be given immediate medical attention, including calling 911, starting CPR and using an AED.

Likely envisioned by most to be the primary form of lightning hit, is the DIRECT STRIKE. In this case, a person becomes the channel for lightning discharge. The current moves over the skin and through a portion of the body. The heat of the lightning produces skin burns but the charge sent through the body is an even greater danger. While not as common, direct strikes can be the most deadly. In all cases, survivability is tied to the immediacy of medical attention, however with a direct strike the amount of current moving through the body is also a factor.

A SIDE FLASH occurs when lightning strikes a taller object near a victim who is also struck as the current jumps from the nearby taller object to the victim. In many cases, victims are only within a few feet of the taller object. Often, side flash victims have taken shelter under a tree to avoid the storm.

Considered the deadliest type of lightning hit is GROUND CURRENT. This occurs when lightning strikes an object and much of the energy travels through and out of that object, into the ground. Such current can travel through garage floors with conductive materials. This is actually the type of strike responsible for the majority of lightning injuries and fatalities because the ground current covers a much larger area. The current enters the body, travelling through the cardiovascular and nervous systems and exits at the point of the body farthest from the lightning. As large farm animals have a relatively large body-span, ground current is frequently responsible for livestock kills.

Lightning and electricity can travel a great distance through conductive materials like metals. Metal DOES NOT attract lightning, but does provide a pathway. In cases of indoor lightning fatalities, CONDUTCION is the likely culprit. Inside OR outside in a thunderstorm, avoid contact with anything connected to metal wires or plumbing that extend outside. This would include showers, sinks, toilets, corded phones, doors, windows and electronics plugged into an outlet.

Less common but just as risky, STREAMERS can injure or kill. Streamers occur as a lightning bolt approaches the ground. Usually only one streamer makes contact with the main bolt as it approaches the ground providing a path for the bright "return stroke" that we see. When the main channel or "leader" discharges, so do all the streamers in the area. Any person connected to one of these streamers may be injured or killed even if the lightning channel isn't completed between the cloud and upward streamer.

Though it can be fatal, many have survived lightning strikes.

For more information on medical effects if you or somebody near you is struck by lightning, click here.

June 22-28 is lightning safety awareness week. The WBRZ Weather Team will have much more about lightning and safety on-air, on social media and right here on through the week.

You can get forecasts from Meteorologist Josh Eachus weekdays on 2une-In from 5-7am and News 2 at Noon from 12-1pm. Additionally, you can get the fastest and latest forecasts and weather news by checking in with, liking Josh on Facebook and following him on Twitter.

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