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Storm Chasing – The Lightning Threat

As we mentioned in our last installment, storm chasing has become a growing hobby across the country over the last few years, especially since the release of the blockbuster film TWISTER. While an exhilarating thrill ride, storm chasing does have its share of threats that must be considered before heading out on the road.

One of the threats that must be acknowledged is that of lightning, which accompanies many strong storms and kills dozens of people across the US each year (second only to flash floods in terms of the number of fatalities). Even though being struck by lightning is a one in several million proposition, you still want to do all you can to avoid the possibility, since few return from such an event to tell the tale.

Being inside a vehicle is the safest bet since vehicles are well grounded by four rubber tires. Cars may be struck my lighting, but your chances of avoiding injury are much greater than they would be if you were outdoors.

If cloud to ground lightning strikes less than a mile or so away, it is wise to seek shelter, because you are at this point, officially on the front lines. Remember that lighting can strike for miles outside of an actual storm zone, so being at ground zero only increases the risk. Remember that lighting strikes do not give warnings.

Lightning strikes also occur within precipitation, so once the rain begins to fall, you need to be on high alert.

You want to avoid being the tallest object around, and stay away from other tall objects such as trees, poles and power lines. Fences can also attract lightning simply due to their makeup and construction materials. Lighting may strike a fence a mile away and the wire could carry the current right to where you are. Don’t be in the path.

If you determine that you are in danger and cannot get to a safe zone quickly, sit down on a nonconducting surface to reduce your chances of being a target. Isolate yourself from the ground if at all possible, either standing, squatting, or sitting. Present the smallest target that you can.

Make sure that your storm chasing team includes at least one person who knows first aid and CPR, someone who can render aid in the event of a lightning strike.  Lightning often stops the victim’s breathing.

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