Monday, August 15, 2005


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

We had a drought for a month but it broke with fierce lightning storms tearing through, bringing life and death all at once. No wonder our earliest gods were lightning gods! Humans would be no different from other animals if it weren't for lightning for this is the real gift of the terrible gods of storms!


But it is also dangerous which is why I periodically talk about it. Last month, a number of boy scouts and their leaders were killed by lightning bolts. They decided to ride out storms inside of tents. The Mongols, when a lightning storm comes, throw out any strangers from their yurts because they fear they will bring lightning inside. I lived in a tent for ten years. When lightning came, we had a place dug out of the ground to hide in. Even so, I was struck.

When you are out in a tent in a thunderstorm, you must crouch on the ground with only the rubber shoes touching the earth, preferably on a rubber, not plastic, mat (use it as a sleeping matress!) and clutch your knees, do not stand. Laying down or sitting can be fatal. Few people know this. Even if lightning hits, it won't kill you. I stand here as testimony to this truth.

From Xinhuanet:
A mobile phone could have led to the death of a 25-year-old Greek tourist who was struck by a bolt of lightening on the Great Wall near Beijing.

"Mobile phones in use can induce lightning strikes," said an employee surnamed Wang with the management office at the Simatai section of the Great Wall.

She said yesterday that the Simatai section of the wall was equipped with lightning rods that are supposed to protect people from being struck, but "it was possible" that the tragedy was caused by the mobile phones the Greek woman and her male companion had on them. The 30-year-old Greek man was slightly injured.

Wang said, "We usually advise tourists to turn off their mobile phones in stormy weathers."

Last year, 10 tourists seeking shelter from the rain in a beacon tower at Juyong Pass, another section of the Great Wall, were also struck by lightning when one of them was using a mobile phone. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
Going into a tower in the thunderstorm isn't very smart. Lightning tends to hit high objects. Towers, especially. When the WTC fell, the following years has seen many more people killed in lower Manhattan due to lightning strikes. It used to be, the WTC took the bolts and now they are much more random.

About the cell phones: obviously, they are lightning magnets, like golf clubs, they must be neutralized, literally, by turning them off during electrical events. I see no warnings about this abroad so I will put it here:


From Live Science:
He said weather scientists have known there was a relationship between ice and lightning, but were learning new details by studying the National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite images which can look at both the number of lightning strikes and the volume of ice in a cloud at the same time.

Crucial is what is called precipitation-sized ice, particles of a millimeter or so which sometimes can be seen falling as small hail. "Where you have more of that, you tend to have more lightning,'' Petersen said.

These particles crash into smaller ice particles in the swirling winds inside storm clouds, resulting in a separation of electrical charge.

The charge separated between smaller and larger particles, with the smaller carrying a positive charge to the top of the thundercloud and the larger ones with the negative charge sinking to the bottom, he explained in a telephone interview.

"You effectively make a big battery with positive and negative ends,'' he said, with the charge building up until it is discharged as lightning.
I'm sorry, but that is only one element. I can tell if a lightning storm is coming hours before it arrives. The static electricity is very noticable. The smell of ozone rises and rises. When I am going to take a direct hit, I can barely breathe because of the ozone, it smells quite strong to me. Ants feel this for they will scurry about long before a storm comes. My granddaddy told me, "If you suddenly notice ants all over the place, a storm will come."

I have been working in three levels down basements and suddenly stopped and said, "A violent thunderstorm is coming." And never been wrong. The interplay between the earth and the heavens is very complex and takes a long time to develop and even though lightning hits tall objects, it doesn't always as I can heartily attest. It hits where negative charges build up and they build up for reasons we still can't understand.

All I know is, I can tell where lightning will hit while it is still sunny. My every nerve in my body can tell. Sometimes, when it is going to be a cloud to cloud lightning event, I am utterly blase. I say, "Don't worry, no groundstrikes will happen." And I am always right about that.

Once, long after the rain stopped, the storm rumbling away, nearly no lightning, I was frantic because I could feel the negative charges climbing my skin and was near hysteria about it. "The storm is over," Chris said. He then handed me the electronic device the previous bolt destroyed (we got hit half an hour earlier). "Take this," he said as a giant lightning bolt traveling more than ten miles away, slammed into us, knocking me down.

I was wearing all rubber so I survived.

The main thing is, the interplay between storm and me was very strong and had little to do with the ice in the thunderhead.

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