Lightning safety: How close do you have to be to get struck?

Published: Tuesday, August 02, 2016 @ 6:39 AM
Updated: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 @ 10:28 AM

Each year in the United States, lightning strikes an average of 300 people. 

A direct hit by a bolt of lightning kills about 50 people per year. Those who survive a lightning strike – with temperatures that can heat the surrounding air to 50,000 Fahrenheit  – often suffer permanent injuries to the brain, heart or other parts of the body.

While most will try to seek shelter if a thunderstorm is near, sometimes there is little warning that lightning is in the area. What many people fail to realize is that you don’t have to be that near a storm to be struck by the lightning that accompanies it.

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Here are some facts about lightning and how close you have to be from its source in order to be struck.

First, what is lightning, exactly?

Lightning results from the action of rising and descending air within a thunderstorm as it separates positive and negative charges that are present in the atmosphere. The buildup and discharge of electrical energy between those positively charged and the negatively charged areas create lightning. Lightning goes three ways – between clouds, from cloud to ground, or from ground to cloud. 

What are my chances of being hit?

If you live to be 80, your chances are about 1 in 3,000.

Is it true I can be hit by a lightning bolt even if there is no storm near?

Yes, it is. What happens is this: A so-called bolt out of the blue (lightning on a clear, blue sky day) is actually a cloud-to-ground flash that occurs out of the backside of a thunderstorm cloud, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That lightning bolt can travel a great distance – up to 25 miles – from the storm cloud. The bolt then angles down to the ground. What makes them especially dangerous is that they do seem to come out of the blue sky, and people are not looking out for lightning if there is no storm visible.

How often does lightning strike and how powerful is it?

We mentioned before your chances of being struck are 1 in 3,000 if you live for 80 years. As a one-time shot at being hit, your chances are about 1 in 240,000. There are 25 million lightning strikes in the United States each year. A typical lightning bolt contains around 15 million volts of electricity.

How do I know when it is time to go inside if a storm is near?

If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Thunder is not possible without lightning since it is caused by lightning. Thunder results from the heated air a lightning bolt creates. The heating of the air (around 50,000 degrees in the “channel,” or path, lightning creates) causes high pressure, which, in turn, compresses the air nearby causing a disturbance and pushing it out in all directions. The disturbance creates a shock wave that becomes a sound wave. That’s what you hear as thunder. It seems to rumble because the process is repeated the length of the “channel.”

I’m inside the house, so, not a problem, right?

Lightning really doesn’t care if you are inside or not. If it hits your house you can be injured. Best practices when lightning is around:

  • Avoid using the telephone or electrical appliances
  • Stay out of the shower or bath – the pipes can conduct lightning
  • Don’t look out the windows or doors – they have metal in the frames  that can attract lightning

What’s wrong with seeking shelter under a tree?

Lightning, generally, will strike the highest structure around. However, you don’t want to be under something lightning strikes. (Remember, that’s a general rule of thumb, not an absolute. Lightning can hit anything.)

But if I have rubber sole shoes on and I’m sitting in my car, I’m good, right?

Ok, forget about the rubber sole shoes, you may as well be wearing aluminum foil as far as the protection you’ll get. And while we have been told that the wheels on a car divert lightning, that’s not exactly true. What will protect you, to some degree, is the steel frame of your car (sorry convertible owners). While it won’t prevent injury, it can provide some protection as long as you are not touching metal in the car.

When am I most likely to be stuck by lightning?

Most lightning strikes happen in the summer when atmospheric conditions make for thunderstorms. Of the 21 lightning deaths in the United States so far this year, 12 happened in July.

The place that receives the most cloud-to-ground lightning is Florida, specifically between Tampa and Orlando. That is the place where lightning is most active, but lightning is also found everywhere else in the United States.

So what should I do if lightning threatens?

Remember this slogan from the National Weather Service:

“When thunder roars, go indoors!” There are about 300 documented injuries from lightning each year.

How can I stay safe from lightning?

Check out NOAA's National Weather Service for more information on indoor and outdoor lightning safety and lightning risks.

 Oh, and, lightning can strike twice in the same place. Save your money on that bet.

Sources: The National Severe Storms Library; NOAA; The National  Weather Service

Tiny KFC serving miniature food opens in Portland

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 7:07 PM

File photo.  (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
File photo. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)(Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

The smallest KFC in the world, serving miniature $5 fill ups, opened Saturday in Portland

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Customers lined up for the free sample of the tiny fried chicken, biscuit, mashed potatoes with a small dollop of gravy, a finger-nail sized cookie and what could only be a sip of a soft drink.

The novelty fast food restaurant was open until 4 p.m., according to The Oregonian.

Community offers support as 94-year-old Florida woman arrested during eviction celebrates birthday

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 11:50 PM

Juanita Fitzgerald (WFTV.com)
Juanita Fitzgerald (WFTV.com)

After spending two nights in jail in Lake County, Florida, on a trespassing charge filed when she refused to leave her apartment during an eviction, Juanita Fitzgerald was glad to spend her 94th birthday somewhere else.

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Fitzgerald was placed in a Eustis patrol car Tuesday after repeatedly refusing to leave the lobby of Franklin House.

At one point, she reportedly told officers that if they wanted her to leave, they would have to "carry me out of here."

>> Read: Eustis woman evicted days before her 94th birthday, jailed when she refuses to leave, police say

Fitzgerald, who turned 94 Friday, spoke to WFTV from jail before she was released on her own recognizance Thursday.

“There’s no reason for me to leave. Not one,” said Fitzgerald, who was sitting shackled in a wheelchair wearing an orange jumpsuit.

Fitzgerald said she lived at Franklin House, an affordable housing facility in Eustis, for nearly eight years.

She said she couldn’t understand why she was being evicted, but court records show she owed rent and would not pay.

Bodycam footage released by Eustis police shows officers taking a screaming Fitzgerald to jail. At one point, she slides out of her wheelchair onto the ground to avoid arrest.

Police said they offered Fitzgerald assistance from nearly a dozen agencies to avoid arresting her, but she refused, so they had no choice but to place her under arrest for trespassing.

Franklin House resident Dave Howell didn't understand why Fitzgerald was so resistant to accepting help.

"Everybody here has attempted to help her," he said. "And one thing's that unique (is) she refuses all help."

After spending two nights in jail, Fitzgerald said she’ll bounce back.

“I’m a born-again Christian and I’m spirit-filled,” she said.

Fitzgerald also said she would like to go back to Franklin House, if possible.

"Yeah, I'd go back there and live," she said. "You know, that's all the people I know."

Since she was released from jail, members of the community have offered support to Fitzgerald. They include a Mount Dora dentist who offered to make her a new set of dentures as a Christmas present.

She is currently staying in a Tavares hotel room, which is being paid for with donations.

Fitzgerald's story was shared extensively on social media, with several people offering to pay her $500 bond to get out of jail and many others saying they were working to find her a permanent place to live.

Man pushed Iraq veteran to ground, stole service dog

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 6:13 PM

Ashley McCall and Jax. (Photo: Boston25News.com)
Ashley McCall and Jax. (Photo: Boston25News.com)

An Iraq veteran says a man pushed her to the icy ground and stole her service dog.

Ashley McCall relies on her 65-pound service dog Jax to help with her anxiety and depression, but that constant source of joy and happiness was suddenly swiped from her Thursday afternoon.

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She says a man started asking questions about Jax while she was getting ready to put him in the car behind her Concord, New Hampshire apartment.

"And he reaches for my door and he pulls it open so I shut it back and as I do that he takes me and slams me to the ground and then takes Jax and gets into this silver Ford Focus and leaves and starts speeding off," said McCall.

Meanwhile, next door at the florist shop, the owner, who used to be in law enforcement, noticed that same car had been sitting in his parking lot all morning. He thought it was suspicious, so he approached the two people in the car. 

"The explanation they were waiting for someone didn’t make sense in this day and age when everyone has a cell phone; you can pick up the phone, call, and ask them where they are so from the beginning it looked like there was some ambush that was about to happen at some point," said owner Fred Keach.

When the alleged ambush happened, Keach called police with a plate number, type of car and description of the men. 

The suspect left the leash and service vest behind, but all the McCalls want is their beloved companion. 

"Ultimately, we just want the dog back. He's a family member. He's not a pet. He's a family member," said McCall.

Matt Kemp traded back to Dodgers in major 5-player deal

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 5:43 PM

The Braves hope to improve their defense, and one area where they could do it quickly would be to replace injury-slowed left fielder Matt Kemp. (Photo: Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The Braves hope to improve their defense, and one area where they could do it quickly would be to replace injury-slowed left fielder Matt Kemp. (Photo: Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Braves and Dodgers announced a five-player trade Saturday afternoon that sent outfielder Matt Kemp back to Los Angeles.

>> Read more trending news

Atlanta added starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, infielder Charlie Culberson, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and cash. Gonzalez was designated for assignment.

The Dodgers snuck under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, while the Braves open an outfield spot for top prospect Ronald Acuna.

Kazmir and McCarthy have endured several injuries through recent years, with both presenting moderate upside when healthy. 

Culberson could be a utility option. He’s played sparingly for the Dodgers the past two seasons, with his most memorable performance coming at the end of the 2016 season, when Culberson hit a walk-off home run to clinch the NL West in Vin Scully’s final home game.