By Diane Forrest
In 1750 Benjamin Franklin set out to do an experiment to prove that lightening was electrical. To prove this he went out on a storming night...put up a kite, tied a key to the string, and waited. In a letter to England he wrote: "When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leiden jar, maybe charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated."
It was also during this experiment that he learned about being grounded. Had he not used some precaution, the result of this experiment would have ended disastrously. I would not suggest trying to reenact this experiment today; in fact I would encourage you to follow safety precautions during storms. The following are some basic tips to follow during a storm:
- Have a battery operated radio with fresh batteries
- Have a charged cell phone on hand
- Have a storm kit. A storm kit should include non-perishable food items, pet food, and medication; can openers, batteries, flashlights, a first aid kit and other storm survival essentials.
Being outdoors during a storm is the worst place to be. However, if you are outside, here are some safety tips for you to follow:
- Monitor local weather conditions regularly with a special weather radio or AM/FM radio.
- Recognize the signs of an oncoming thunder and lightning storm - towering clouds with a "cauliflower" shape, dark skies and distant rumbles of thunder or flashes of lightning. Do not wait for lightning to strike nearby before taking cover.
- Look for a large, enclosed building when a thunder or lightning storm threatens. That's the best choice.
- If you are in a car and it has a hard top, stay inside and keep the windows rolled up.
- Avoid small sheds and lean-tos or partial shelters, like pavilions.
- Stay at least a few feet away from open windows, sinks, toilets, tubs, showers, electric boxes and outlets, and appliances. Lightning can flow through these symptoms and "jump" to a person.
- Do not shower or take a bath during a thunder or lightning storm
- Avoid using regular telephones, except in an emergency. If lightning hits the telephone lines, it could flow to the phone. Cell or cordless phones, not connected to the building's wiring, are safe to use.
- If you are caught outside: (If you are unable to reach a safe building or car, knowing what to do can save your life.)
- If your skin tingles or your hair stands on the end, a lightning strike may be about to happen. Crouch down on the balls of your feet with your feet close together. Keep your hands on your knees and lower your head. Get as low as possible without touching your hands or knees to the ground. DO NOT LIE DOWN!
- If you are swimming, fishing or boating and there are clouds, dark skies and distant rumbles of thunder or flashes of lightning, get to land immediately and seek shelter.
- If you are in a boat and cannot get to shore, crouch down in the middle of the boat. Go below if possible.
- If you are on land, find a low spot away from trees, metal fences, pipes, tall or long objects.
- If you are in the woods, look for an area of shorter trees. Crouch down away from tree trunks.
If you find someone who has been struck by lightning get emergency medical help as soon as possible. If more than one person is struck by lightning, treat those who are unconscious first. They are at greatest risk of dying. A person struck by lightning may appear dead, with no pulse or breath. Often the person can be revived with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). There is no danger to anyone helping a person who has been struck by lightning - no electric charge remains. CPR should be attempted immediately.
Treat those who are injured but conscious next. Common injuries from being struck by lightning are burns, wounds and fractures.
Some Measures you can take while inside include:
- Unplug appliances. To avoid damage from a lightning strike, unplug all appliances – even those that are connected to a surge protector. Surge protectors are often ineffective in the event of a direct or near-direct lightning strike. Move cars into the garage or away from trees. If a garage is available, park the car inside to avoid damage from hail, downed tree limbs or wind-blown debris. If no garage is available, try to relocate the car to a location that's out in the open to prevent damage from downed trees or tree limbs.
- Stay away from water and pipes. If a lightning bolt strikes nearby, the electricity can travel through metal water pipes, so prevent electrocution during a thunderstorm by avoiding the sink, toilet, shower and bath. Notably, this only applies to homes with metal plumbing. Many newer homes use PVC pipes for plumbing; these do not conduct electrical current.
- Don't use the telephone. Lightning strikes can send a surge of electricity traveling through the phone lines, resulting in electrocution. Avoid using the telephone during a thunderstorm.
- Stay away from the windows. There have been many cases involving people who have been struck by lightning while standing near a window. In addition, a downed tree limb or debris could come crashing through a window, resulting in serious injury or even death to anyone situated nearby.
- Remain in an interior room during a severe thunderstorm. Some severe thunderstorm systems have been known to produce tornadoes, and super cell thunderstorms can produce intense winds that cause damage that's comparable that which would result from a tornado. During a severe thunderstorm, bring children and pets into an interior room or hallway, and stay far away from windows. The goal is to place as many walls as possible between the residents and the outdoors.
Following these simple tips will help to prevent you from sustaining serious injuries or damage. The key is to keep safe, and don't fly any kites during a storm.