June 24, 2009

Lightning is Frightening!

So did you know this week is National Lightening Safety Week?

It comes complete with a nifty slogan: "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!"

(And if that's the one they chose, you kinda wonder how bad the rejected ones were? "When Thunderclouds Threaten, It's Time to Start Frettin'!" Or: "When You Hear Thunder Boom, Don't Leave Your Room!" Or perhaps: "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" )

Not only does Lightning Safety have a slogan, it even has it's own "quirky" mascot: "Leon the Lightning Lion!"

Parental Warning:
If Your Kid's Soccer Coach Looks Anything Like This?
Find Another Team. Lightning is The Least of Your Worries.

Actually, it seems the folks at the National Weather Service may have some ambivalent feelings themselves about skeezy ol' Leon. Check out the "kids game" over at the NWS lightning site: it's a little quiz, and if you guess wrong about an unsafe situation, poor Leon gets zapped by lightning and electrocuted before your very eyes!

Seriously. This is one creepy public safety campaign.

Anyway, as a San Francisco Bay Area transplant now spending summers on the East Coast, (and as a congenital worrywart), I do not need a lot of help in being scared of lightning. I'm already quite good at it.

On the west coast, lightning wasn't all that frequent. And when we did get some, it usually occurred in the middle of a winter rainstorm when I didn't want to go outside anyway. So it somehow seems weird and unfair that a perfectly warm summer day can entice you out to the beach or tempt you into a long hike, and then... Dark Clouds? Rain? Thunder? Lightning? Untimely death? WTF?

So I'm one of those people who will try to remember to check the radar before I go for long outdoor excursions, but even with some level of paranoia about it, I've still been caught outside in thunderstorms.

Was I really in any danger? What should I do if I'm outside and hear thunder? And am I safe if I'm hanging out indoors?

Well, the National Weather Service has put together some lightning safety information to answer some of my questions, but they left me feeling more paranoid than ever. (They also have a video that they advertise with inappropriately enthusiastic teaser "New 30 second video of teen struck by lightning!" Note: no teen is actually struck by lighting during the video, but it's actually pretty darn poignant. Here's the Youtube link.)

But anyway, on to the informational portion of this post. There's much more over at the NSA website.

Watch for Developing Thunderstorms. Towering cumulus clouds are often the first sign that you're going to die a thunderstorm may be developing.

It Doesn't Have to be Raining for You To Get Hit. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from where rain is falling. Coincidentally, this about how far away you can hear thunder, which means...

If You Can Hear Thunder, You're Within Striking Distance. This totally freaks me out. If you're outside and you hear thunder, lightning can get you. Yikes!

Safe Places Are Really Hard To Find Outdoors. In the "Electrocute Leon the Lion Game," there are a bunch of examples of places you might try to seek shelter, but you (and Leon) are doomed because unless they are a large building or an enclosed vehicle you are screwed.

So all us hikey-bikey people who do not always travel everywhere in cars and could find ourselves a long way from shelter during a thunderstorm? People like us need to pay special attention to the weather!

You Can Be Zapped Indoors Too: "Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Stay away from pools (indoor or outdoor), tubs, showers and other plumbing."

I always wondered about this. So you could be minding your own business taking a bath and a thunderstorm comes along and... Eeek! You should also buy surge suppressors for key equipment and install ground fault protectors on circuits near water or outdoors. And "wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder, before going outside again." (And, um, how do you know it's the 'last clap?"

Don't Be Afraid to Help a Lightning Strike Victim: They don't carry an electrical charge, are safe to touch, and need urgent medical attention. Call 9-1-1 immediately and perform CPR if appropriate.

And be careful out there!

--- Crabby

Anyone have any tips, fears, scary stories, or other thoughts about lightning?


  1. oooh.. I'm first today! :)

    "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" made me snort my coffee.. I totally think they should have used that instead!

    on plumbing.. my hubby's been zapped a lil bit while in the shower. I may have this backwards, but if you have all pvc pipes, you can shower to your hearts content since it's not a conductor.

    oh, and one of my cousins was hit while biking once! thankfully, it wasn't direct. the lightning hit the ground and went UP his bike into him!

    sorry if that makes you even more freaked, crabby.. but thunderstorms are so much cooler to watch from a nice dry porch. looove summer t-storms from the porch. the dogs? not so much!

  2. Agree with Lillian's Mom. Love watching Thunderstorms from a garage/porch.

    Am thinking i should head to the weather site, since i've never really been too cautious about this. Thanks for the info!

  3. "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" ) is a superior slogan. I strongly recommend it be adopted.
    Meanwhile, I love electrical storms. It's all I can do to not go outside when they hit. When I was young I was scared of them until one day my dad told me they activate (or put in or some such) nitrogen in the soil. Have no clue if this is true, but it worked.

  4. You're aces in the slogan development department!

  5. Good info! There have been more than normal lightening strikes here in CA this year WITH people getting hit! Crazy year!

    I grew up back east in those tall houses & surrounded by scary storms & the lightening ALWAYS scared me! Looked & felt like it was in my front yard!

  6. Personally, I don't think that sort of thing (lightning) ought to be allowed. People need to better regulate their weather; it shouldn't be allowed to interfere with plans for an outing.

    (Growing up in the Bay Area does leave you biased about this kind of thing.)

  7. I manage to worry about and be scared of a lot of things, but lightening has never been one of them. I think my most vivid memory is of a thunder and lightening storm that happened while I was on a camping trip. I was with a group but was in a tent by myself. I woke in the middle of the night to ground-shaking thunder and when the lightening flashed it was bright as day. I thought it was cool. Then I went back to sleep.

  8. Maybe they could have a contest for their slogan. Here are my entries:

    A rumble in the sky may bring a flash, so find some cover to save your ass.

    Get in your house when you hear a boom, or you’ll be struck dead very soon.

  9. Oooh, I like Tom's suggestions.

    Boom = Doom, so better zoom!

    See a flash? Better dash.

  10. I can see some NWS corporate team working up all these slogans over piles of donuts and coffee and lunches and presentations and months and months of meetings, the hiring of contractors to put together the image of the lion and the game idea, and of course, upper management nodding their heads in approval during the final presentation with the laser pointer and the discussion on globalization aka g11n.

    Then a few years later, everyone gets laid off.

    Oh please don't consider this one of those negative comments. I loved the post except for the disturbing part about the genital warts.

  11. I love watching thunderstorms. And yeah, it stinks that most lightning safety tips are "be inside before it starts or you'll die", or something of that variation.

  12. Oh you crack me up! I totally know what you mean. THe midwest has thunder storms like nothing I've ever seen out west. I still panic and run to my basement every time the tornado sirens go off. My neighbors laugh at me:)

  13. I reserve most of my weather fear for tornados. After all, in school growing up it was tornado drills that they had us doing and tornado horror...err...safety movies that we watched.

    And huddling down in the basement with pets and pillows when there was a tornado warning.

  14. Johnny Cochran is turning rhymes in his grave.

    As an east coast native I can tell you that, while summer is thunderstorm season for us, most storms that blow up are just squalls.

    Picture them as the nip-crazed cats of the weather world.

    They swoop in, pounce, and then for no apparent reason have pressing business in another room and - woooosh - they're gone.

    As for being struck by lightning, there are about 307 million people in the US and only about 400 will be hit by lightning in a given year, so you've only got (roughly) a 1 in 700,000 chance of becoming a crispy critter.

    Plus, there's always the chance of picking up superpowers.

    Note of trivia: No one has ever been struck by lightning in the District of Columbia. I theorize that this is because God prefers not to visit here. But hey, if you can stand the smell, our lightning safety track record is thus far impeccable.

    Your chance by being struck by an errant motorist, however, is bloody astronomical.

  15. I had NO idea as long as you can hear thunder, there's a chance of being struck by lightning. Therefore, it's one of those things I'm choosing not to believe. Besides, what if I just have terribly acute hearing?

  16. I'm with everyone else. If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!....haha. They totally should have used that one! :)

  17. Aren't you glad you live here in New England now, just in time for non-stop raining, it feels just like Seattle...

  18. I love thunderstorms. In my teens, I used to go out walking in them quite intentionally. And at least once a summer, I misjudge how quickly clouds are blowing in and get caught walking or biking in one. Not the smartest thing to do, I know and it does confirm how quickly a storm can arise from distant thunder. I guess I should adopt "When lightning is striking, forget about biking."

  19. "And "wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder, before going outside again." (And, um, how do you know it's the 'last clap?""

    --the same way you know if you've passed perimenopause and entered official menopause -- you wait till you haven't had a period in 12 months and then a doctor blesses you with the title of Menopause Queen. Of course if you have another period after that, you have to return to Go, and start counting aaaalllll over again.

    Ahem. Well, there's a link in MY mind between thunder and menop..... oh, never mind.

  20. "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" That. Is. Perfect.

    Does it make you feel better if I tell you my hubby went to high school with a guy who's been hit by lightning 3 times? All in completely different situations? And no, he does not have a plate in his head or anything. Although he is a bit weird now...

    I am a lover of thunderstorms. And the only fear I have of lightning is the potential for forest fires in the aftermath.

    I was often yelled at to get my @$$ inside before I was struck do to my prevalence for playing outside in the rain. (We had a swale along side the house that made a fabulous water slide during rain storms.)

  21. A friend of mine attracts lightening, she has been hit just standing by a window in the house. Twice. Needless to say, she doesn't do dishes or talk on the phone during a storm.

    Lillian's mom...PVC won't conduct, but the cast iron tub and the stainless steel sink might make you pause to think if either are anywhere near a window.

  22. ok you should SO WRITE PSAs woman.


    can we also use:

    If yer too fricken beat dont go out in the heat? staying inside is nice cover yer d*mn self with ice.

    sweltering in TX,


  23. I think I've only been worried about lightning once, and that was when we got caught on top of a fourteener in the middle of a storm. My jacket was squeaking with all the electrical charge and I was pretty sure I was doomed.

    Otherwise, I ignore all storm warnings and sirens. Especially the ones at 2AM.

  24. I grew up with thunderstorms in the mid-west but I've lived in storm-free California for my entire adult life. I miss the crack of thunder and flash of lightning but the one time I've been caught out I wasn't too happy.

    While visiting family in the east during the summer several years back, we were running a 5 mile loop around a lake. It went from heavy humidity to dark clouds to loud thunder to pouring rain and repetitive lightning. When we were still over a mile from the car. We decided it was a good time to practice sprints but it was pretty scary.

    Although it was amusing to watch all the people standing under tall trees trying to stay dry and safe.

    Darn. Now I'm going to spend my whole morning at work trying to think up a slogan entry for a nonexistent contest.

  25. "Cancel the f*cking hike" and "If your kid's coach looks like this, lightning is the least of your worries" made me fall of my chair laughing (or was it a lightning strike?).

    Don't have any shocking stories to share even tho I'm a life-long New Englander. I generally herd myself into the basement as I know not to f*ck with Mother Nature. My son and husband are quite another story as playing with fire, electricity and pointy sticks seem to be present in some extra male DNA stand - until it goes wrong - then they're crowding my basement space.

    Poor little Leon looks like he's taken a couple of lightning strikes to the head.

  26. Living in the lightning capital of the world, this is serious stuff for us! I was caught in a storm about two weeks ago while on my morning run. I didn't feel safe till I was back in the house!

  27. I rarely worry about being hit by lightning. I don't like to ride my bike in the rain or run with wet socks and shoes, so I do indoor activities on bad-weather days.

    The one or two times I've been caught unexpectedly while running, I figured as long as I kept my distance from trees and other tall objects, I was pretty safe. In an urban area, it's unlikely I'll ever be the highest point lightning can reach.

    The only times I've really been concerned is while walking with an umbrella. I've never heard of anyone getting hit while carrying an umbrella, but it seems like carrying a metal conductor in one's hands would be a bad idea.

    Still, I don't worry about it much. Maybe it's because storms aren't as fierce in urban areas as on the outskirts. Or maybe it's because having been through two hurricanes, numerous tropical storms, and a terrifying tornadic storm in 2nd grade where lightning hit the school, brought down trees all over campus and the day was black as night until afternoon...well, most other storms are just anti-climactic.

  28. Electrifying!!!

    I saw a Mythbusters episode once where the poor test dummy was electricuted in the bathtub. He was totally fried! I guess our mothers were right about that one (among others)...no more stormy baths or showers for me!!!

  29. "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!"

    Thanks, I learned some things about lightning today!

  30. I recently found out that if it's lightning out, you should take out hair clips.

    I love storms!

  31. I hate getting wet like a cat. I like watching thunderstorms from my comfortable 12th floor perch, though. You can see for miles. We were really jazzed several years ago when some hurricane or other made it all the way up to NYC, except by then I think it was a tropical storm. It was way cool.

  32. Fortunately I live in an area where thunderstorms are rare. My friend, who is very afraid of lightning is going back to Florida next month and will probably spend most of July and August under the bed!

  33. I have a love/hate relationship with thunderstorms.
    And, silly me, it's the thunder that I'm afeared of..... duh.

    LOVE your slogan! Wish I had my wits about me today, but I think I left them in the car (or they spilled out somewhere along the highway.... but I am NOT going back to look for them!)

    And POD? You got me with the genital warts comment - I had to go back and see if I missed something!
    Crap, I just realized I'm signed in wrong..... hey, that might not be such a bad thing.... nobody will know it's me! Hehehehehehe

  34. Awesome slogans! Perhaps they (or anyone else needing a slogan) will start emailing you and you can start a slogan empire and begin conquering the world. Lightining right. We get lovely summer lightening here too but usually when our storms roll around they look very menacing so you get some warning to get to shelter. But you know there is also freak lightning that comes out of nowhere?

  35. As a native Floridian, I grew up with almost daily thunderstorms. I love the heavy rain, thunder and lightning! It's been so strange out here in the SF Bay with none of that!

    Your chance of getting hit with lighting is really very low, unless you're in a flat, open area. Almost every year there's a new story in southwest FL of a high school football player getting hit...

  36. Lightning story:

    When I was 10, we moved from PA to CO (5 people, front of moving truck, car chained to back, hot weather, fun times--but I digress).

    The moving truck was sitting in front of the house in PA with a long metal ramp that went into the front door of the house. Twas a hot day--windows cracked, fans running.

    A summer storm blew in out of nowhere. Our neighbor, who was helping us was leaned over to pick up something when a lightning bolt whizzed over his head and out one of the open windows. He had very curly hair, and when he stood up, his hair, in my father's words, looked like, "An explosion in a steel wool factory".

    Our neighbor and my folks were quite shaken.

    But all's well that ends well, I spose.

  37. Just when I was getting over my fear of bears, there's this. Guess I'll be staying indoors all summer. Thanks a lot.

  38. I saw a news story many years ago about a couple that was sitting at their kitchen table, during a strong storm, planning their first vacation in several years. She took a potty break and was electrocuted while there. It was so sad and bizarre, that it is forever etched in to my brain, and has caused me to develop a very strong storm bladder. :-)

    Sorry Crabby, but you did ask for scary stories!!

  39. Maybe this is a new job opportunity for you Cranky, writing slogans for National Lightening Safety Week. I am sure if you did a pitch with yours, especially "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" you'd get the contract next time! It is brilliant and would make anyone think twice about hiking in a storm. :)

  40. I am a little in awe of that campaign. Wonder who thought up that idea.

    Personally I'm a fan of lightning I tend to watch lightning during storms... right up until the point when I hear a tornado and am forced to haul ass inside. I'm quite lucky I haven't died yet.

  41. oh lightning. we have a lot of lightning and thunder here with our late-afternoon summer storms in colorado (raining as i type this ... check that: POURING).

    what we were always told is after you see lightning, count the seconds until you hear thunder - each second represents one mile (so 10 seconds; 10 miles away).

    or maybe it was the other way around. again, learned it in grade school. still, not something you want to #*$( around with.


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