Thunderstorms are commonplace in the hot weather. During the summer months, lightning flashes occur about once every three seconds in Canada.
Up to a million times more powerful than household current, lightning bolts can be deadly. A lightning bolt can cause cardiac arrest when the current enters the body. It can also lead to organ damage and burns, sometimes with long-term effects.
In Canada lightning takes an average of 10 lives every year and seriously injures 100 to 150 people. The number of strikes is highest in southern Ontario: Windsor receives the most, followed by Toronto and Hamilton. In western Canada, lightning causes about half of all forest fires. Lightning usually strikes higher ground and prominent objects, especially those that conduct electricity. Anything metal poses a risk.
Personal electronic devices, such as iPods, Walkmans, cell phones and beepers worn on the body during thunderstorms, can contribute to injury when one is struck by lightning. It is not the metal that initially attracts the lightning. The metal conducts the electricity and causes contact burns. Metal jewelry, including body piercing and coins kept in pockets have been known to contribute to burns.
Lightning can strike several kilometres from its source so early precautions are crucial. If thunderstorms are in the forecast, re-assess your plans for outdoor activities. If you can hear thunder then you are close to the storm. You are considered to be in the high danger zone if you are less than 10 kilometres away. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance of lightning. Seek shelter immediately and do not resume any outdoor activities until you have waited at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder. It is crucial to ensure that the risk of a lightning strike has passed completely.
It’s critical to know what not to do. Some people try to protect themselves from the heavy rain under trees. This is a very bad idea. If lightning strikes a tree, electricity will run down the trunk, through the roots and into the ground, causing a strong shock.
During a Thunder Storm…
Stay clear of high ground and open spaces.
Seek shelter in a house, large building or motor vehicle. Keep windows and doors shut.
If you are riding a bicycle, motorcycle or ATV, get off. The rubber tires will not protect you.
If you are boating, head for shore. If caught on the water, crouch low in the boat.
If you are in a flat, open field, bend down and put your hand on your knees. Maintain minimum contact with the ground.
Avoid contact with metal. Stay at least 30 metres away from metal fences and take off shoes that have metal cleats.
Stay away from water, including lakes and puddles.
Stay sheltered until the storm is over.
Don’t seek shelter under a tree, in a shed, or in a small, open building.
Don’t lie down on the ground.
Don’t take a shower or bath. If lightning strikes the plumbing system it can be conducted into the tub or shower.
Don’t use the phone or electrical appliances unless absolutely necessary. Electricity travels through wires.
Don’t use a mobile phone outdoors.
Don’t hold a golf club, umbrella or fishing rod.
Don’t travel in a severe storm. If you are caught in your car, open the windows a bit and park off the road away from power lines.
Don’t try to finish your activity. Postpone that inning or round of golf until the storm has completely passed.