Lightning is a natural phenomenon that occurs more often than we think it does. That streaking flash, followed by a loud rumbling noise, that makes your kneesbuckle is very dangerous because of its unpredictable striking force. Beingstruck by lightning can be deadly, so the more precautions you take ahead oftime, the safer you are.
Lightning not only affects us, it also has a greatimpact on our man-made structures and of course, our natural surroundings. According to Professor Martin Uman, one of the world’s leading lightningexperts: Lightning is an effect of electrification within a thunderstorm. As thethunderstorm develops, interactions of charged particles produce an intenseelectrical field within the cloud. A large positive charge is usuallyconcentrated in the frozen upper layers of the cloud and a large negative chargewith a smaller positive are is found in the lower portions. (4) This produceswhat you see, a lightning flash, which may be “two or 300 feet long” (25).
The flash itself may be only as wide as a pencil, but because it is extremelyhot, hotter than the sun, its glow appears to be very wide to the human eye. When lightning pushes the air from its path, it expands it quickly causing a 2loud explosion, which we call thunder (25). William R. Newcott, part of theNational Geographic Editorial Staff, describes lightning as a “river ofelectricity rushing through a canyon of air.
Moving fast as 100,000 milesa second, lightning sears wild and unstoppable through twisted channel as longas ten miles,” (83) he explained. Lightning, being a natural occurrence, isvery unpredictable which makes it even more dangerous. Martin Uman, director ofthe University of Florida’s Lightning Research Laboratory is quoted in Omnisaying, “A man was talking on a telephone near Gainesville, Florida, whenlightning hit the wires. He died instantly, electrocuted. Three or four peopledie that way every year” (Wolkomir 1). It is hard to believe that someonecould just die while using the phone.
You never know what will happen next whenit comes to lightning. In fact, even in recent weeks, the state of New Jerseywas hit by lightning causing various dangers. On June 6, 1996, a Sewaren oilstorage tank in Woodbridge, New Jersey, was hit by lightning causing a ferociousexplosion. This fire blazed for an unbelievable 28 hours.
According to a staffreport in the Asbury Park Press, two employees attempting to turn off the powerto the area “suffered electrical burns, and were apparently the onlycasualties” (A1). Fortunately, the 3 other tanks did not explode, or a fewmore casualties might have resulted. Many people in the area felt and heard theforce of the explosion. Staff writers add, that “nearby relaxing in his boatoff Cliff Road, Rick Bothwell reported feeling the explosion, even on the water. I heard a bang and a whoosh.
It felt like an explosion out of a tube, he said”(A1). Inland, nearby neighbors also felt the impact of the explosion. “Theground just rumbled from the front of house to the back, said Richard Swallick,who lives on West Avenue within a few hundred yards of the tank field” (A1). Experts are very unsure as to what caused this almost disastrous explosion. Alsoin this article, “Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the state department ofEnvironmental Protection, said it was too early to speculate on what theenvironmental impact of the blaze will be” (Staff Report A5).
In otherwords,they don’t know if any harmful chemicals were released during the blaze. Contaminants in the air could cause a serious problem for neighbors of the gasstore area. After something like this happens, the question that comes to mind,is can lightning strike twice? Well, according to Bernhard Warner, a staffwriter for the Asbury Park Press, there was a smaller explosion in Linden, NewJersey, at the Tosco Refining Co. shortly before the one in Woodbridge exploded(A5). A 4 manager at the refinery would not say whether lightning caused thefire, because it is still under investigation. It seems the more things, welearn about nature, the more questions arise.
Bob Friant, a spokesman for theState Department of Community Affairs, is quoted in the Home News and Tribune,by Sean P. Carr, saying “we have never been able to conquer Mother Nature, andwe never will be” (B1). He has a real optimistic point of view, huh. Although,after Carr points out that their are “thirty-five fuel storage tankfacilities, some of the dozens of tanks each store millions of gallons, dot theShore of Central and Northern New Jersey waterways,” (B1) the chance of thishappening again seems likely. Furthermore, Martin Uman continues saying, “Atany moment, planet wide, about 2,000 thunderstorms are in progress.
Each stormgenerates a flash every 20 seconds” (4). That is unbelievable. Now I canunderstand how there are so many deaths and injuries from people being struck bylightning. The more thunderstorms, the more chances lightning will strike. Ifyou give lightning enough chances, it is bound to hit something. In the time ittakes you to read this sentence, lightning has flashed more than 500 times (4),Uman notes.
Facts like that are really amazing to me. How could lightning havejust flashed 500 times? This is because most of the lightning flashes we see arecloud-to-ground strokes, but they “compromise only 5 about 20 percent oflightning” (4). Much more frequent are flashes within clouds. Althoughlightning kills many Americans every year, luckily some victims of lightninghits have lived to tell about the experience. More than a year after lightningnearly killed him during football practice, Tony Trice still does not want totalk about it (Newcott 90). According to eyewitnesses in Burtonsville, Maryland:”They saw a bolt tear a hole in the high schooler’s helmet, burn his jersey,and blow his shoes off.
Toy’s breathing stopped, but he was resuscitated onthe spot” (90). It is unbelievable that this teenager survived after being hitby one of nature’s unpredictable and deadliest forces. How is it possiblesomeone could survive after being struck by lightning? Researchers at theUniversity of Queenland in Australia have traced the path followed by lightningwhen it enters a living creature (Dayton 1) and according these researchers:simulated lightning strikes on anaesthetized sheep showed that lightning firstenters the body orifices and then flow along the blood vessels and cerebrospinalfluid (CSF) pathways. Since the CSF pathway narrows near the brainstem, thispart is hit hardest, resulting in cardiac and respiratory arrest. Since theheart can restart itself because of autonomous control, fatality usually resultsfrom respiratory failure.
(1) This shows the importance of mouth-to-mouthresuscitation for lightning victims. 6 I almost witnessed someone being struckby lightning, but luckily they were not. It was during a soccer tournament thatI was playing in, about nine years ago. All of a sudden, the sun was hiddenbehind the clouds and the sky turned a dark purplish color, and then itdownpoured.
The sky rumbled with fierce thunder and you could see a couple oflightning flashes. The tournament was at a high school, so everyone ran to theschool for safety. My father was with me, and as we headed towards the school,we saw a bright flash of lightning strike a tree about a mile from us and splitit in half, starting a little fire. There were two kids from my team that werearound 50 feet away from the tree and they stood there frozen in fear.
My dadtold me to keep going. Then, he went back and had to literally carry them tosafety because they were so scared. Fortunately, no one was any closer to thattree or they would have been seriously injured or killed that day. Golfers areprime targets for lightning, because they tend to either stand in open grassyareas or huddle under trees while playing their game. Also, they use umbrellaswhich attract lightning to them because of the metal point on top.
In addition,they hold metal golf clubs which increase their chances of being struck bylightning. “A scored pattern on the fifth green at Phalem Park Golf course inSt. Paul Minnesota, defied ground zero when four golfers were injured, onefatally, by 7 a June 1991 strike” (Newcott 89). I guess that kind of provesthat golf can be a dangerous sport, especially during a thunderstorm.
In thefilm, Lightning, directed by Linda Gorman, a golf legend, Lee Trevino describeshis experience of being hit by lightning, while playing in a tournament in 1975. Trevino says: The sensation that I got was, I knew that something was wrong. Itdid not just go pow, and it was over. I felt it, and I started shaking. The nextthing I knew, I started to hear a ringing sound in my ear, like a ball-peenhammer.
Then all of a sudden, the next thing I know is look at my feet and nowthey are in the air. Now I’m off the ground. . . its got me all stretched out.
At the time, I guess it stops your heartbeat and I’m gasping for air. The nextthing I knew, is I woke up, and I was all doubled up. My left arm was under mybody. . .
(Lightning) In listening and watching Trevino speak, I could see hisconfusion and uncertainty of what was happening to him. . I am sure to this day,when he is golfing on the green during a thunderstorm, he becomes reminiscent ofhis previous experience with lightning. 8 Tall man-made structures have beenknown to attract lightning.
According to The New Book of Popular Science,engineers in 1935 set up a device inside the Empire State Building in New YorkCity, to find out how the building handles being struck by lightning in theexperience. In the film Lightning, one source noted that this famous building is”struck more than twenty times each year” (Lightning). The special rod atthe top of the building was connected to this device by steel. This would allowa small amount of the current to safely deflect from the rod to their machines.
Also photographs were taken from a small building to provide proof of thisexperiment. They concluded from their studies that it is possible for lightningto strike twice in the same place (142-143). “The empire state tower has beenstruck by lightning as many as 42 times in one year. It was hit 12 times in asingle storm, and on one memorable occasion, 9 times in 20 minutes,” (142-143)which proves their studies to be accurate.
Yet, after all those strikes, therewas no damage to the building. Nature itself is also affected by lightning. Lightning is a cause of forest fires, which of course, may be devastatinglydestructive. According to The New Book of Popular Science: It also causes agreat deal of damage as a result of heating and expansion. When it passesthrough wood, for example, the 9 enormous current heats the wood and causes itto expand many many times.
As a result, the wood is converted into vapor, andthis adds to the general effect of expansion. (143) It is interesting thatMother Nature can create lightning, but she can also destroy a part of herselfin the process. All of us must respect lightning. It is very dangerous and itkills! We do not have to be afraid of it, though.
We can protect ourselves fromlightning by observing some basic lightning safety rules. According to myresearch, I have learned that one should keep away from conductors such as metaland water, as well as tall trees. When inside a home avoid using the telephoneexcept for emergency. You will not see me talking with my friend during alightning storm, not after hearing about the man getting electrocuted whiletalking on the phone.
If outside, with no time to reach a safe building or anautomobile, follow these rules given by Martin Uman: Do not stand underneath anatural lightning rod such as a tall isolated tree in an open area. Stay awayfrom wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails, and other metallic pathswhich could carry lightning to you from some distance away. If you arehopelessly isolated in a level field or prairie and you feel your hair stand onend, indicating lightning is about to strike, drop to your knees and bendforward, putting your hands 10 on your knees. Do not lie on the ground!!! (95)Lightning does not choose its victims or target. It just happens. For the manyfatalities, those people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It isalright to be curious about lightning, but do not be stupid. Take the properprecautions or you may just be another statistic. Remember you cannot predictwhen or where lightning will strike, but you can be aware of the possibility. Itmight be well, also to recall this passage from “Playing with Lightning”,written by a lightning stalker, Karl B. McEachron, quoted in The New Book ofPopular Science: “If you heard the thunder, the lightning did not strike you. If you saw the lightning, it missed you; and if it did strike you, you wouldhave known it” (144).
So, in otherwords, you can not predict when or wherelightning will strike, but you will definitely know it, when it strikes you. BibliographyCarr, Sean P. “Lightning can strike twice at vulnerable gas storageareas. ” The Home News & Tribune 12 June 1996, sec.
B: 1. Dayton, Leigh. “Secrets of a bolt from the blue: How a lightning bolt enters the body. ” NewScientist 18 Dec. 1993: 16. Lightning.
Dir. Linda Gorman. Prod. Nova. BostonScience Unit, 1995.
“Lightning. ” The New Book of Popular Science. Vol. 12.
1994. Newcott, William R. “Lightning: Nature’s High-Voltage Spectacle. “National Geographic July 1993: 81-103. Staff Report. “Fire rages afterlightning strikes Sewaren oil storage tanks.
” Asbury Park Press 16 June 1996,sec. A: 1,5. Uman, Martin A. All About Lightning.
New York: Dover PublicationsInc, 1986. Warner, Bernhard. “A second fire strikes oil refinery in Linden. “Asbury Park Press 12 June 1996, sec A: 5 Wolkomir, Richard. “Electric Sky.
“Omni March 1994: 50-60.