I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to better respect lightning.
NING, not ING. I already have a healthy respect for lighting (as evidenced by our extensive collection of lava lamps and other sources of illumination, such as candles and flashlights and neon beer signs). It chases away the shadows and helps prevent me from stubbing my toe on sharp table corners cloaked in shadow.
Well, most of the time. I still managed to find the edge of a card table last night even with the lights on. Hurt like a mofo, too. But I digress…
I’m talking about lightning, as in, electrostatic discharges caused by imbalances between two electrically charged regions, such as clouds and the ground.
(And by the way, if I see one more person misspell it lightEning, I’m going to scream! But again, I digress.)
Y’all know I’m a weather geek. Thunderstorms fascinate me. Usually when they roll in, while other people seek shelter, I do the opposite. I step outside. To gawk and take pictures. And I know that’s not smart, but it hasn’t stopped me yet. I always figured the odds of being struck by lightning were pretty slim. But you know what? They’re not as slim as I thought: the average person has a 1 in 15,300 chance of being struck by lightning during their lifetime. And only about 10% who are struck by lightning actually die.
But it dawns on me that I am not an average person, considering I’m the guy heading outdoors at the first sign of thunder when everybody else is coming inside.
Two other sobering statistics:
- South Dakota has the fifth-highest rate of lightning fatalities in the U.S.
- Seventy percent of people who are struck by lighting suffer from debilitating health effects such as severe burns, memory loss, and brain damage.
And all along, I naively thought all you’d have to show for your close encounter with 100 million volts of electricity was a really good story to tell at cocktail parties.
Luckily, none of this was on my mind Monday morning, when I left the house before sunup for my morning walk. In my defense, I wasn’t expecting lightning. None was forecast. It wasn’t until I stepped outside and started walking that I was even aware of any thunderstorms in the vicinity. I was surprised to see quite a bit of lightning over the hills to the west. But no thunder, which meant I wasn’t in imminent danger. I checked my weather app and the radar showed the storms were a good distance away, though heading in my direction.
Maybe I can finish my walk before they get here, I said to myself.
I did not finish my walk before they got here.
But I’d chosen to stay in the neighborhood rather than head for one of the nearby parks I usually frequent. At the first rumble of thunder, I immediately turned around and headed home. I was maybe a quarter mile away, and the lightning began flashing almost directly overhead, so I practically sprinted the rest of the way. I’m very fortunate the positively charged particles along the ground didn’t travel up my body and attract the negatively charged particles at the bottom of the storm cloud.
Wow. I really am a weather geek.
Recounting this story to my coworkers later that morning, I learned that two of them personally knew people who had been struck and killed by lightning.
OK, fine. I’ll practice common sense from now on and enjoy lightning from inside the house. Any photos I take will be from a safe distance or through a window.
Now, let’s talk about venturing out in blizzards and nearly getting frostbite…