Lightning and thunder: how to protect yourself in a storm

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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In and on the water: Get out of the water immediately

If you are traveling by sailboat, the masts are real lightning catchers. In general, water sports enthusiasts should disembark immediately in the event of a storm. Swimmers should get out of the water immediately, as the lightning current can easily spread in the water and lose more and more tension. An elongated body floating in water has voltage differences so strong that current flows through it. This leads to serious injuries or even cardiac arrest. Swimming during storms is fatal.

How safe are you in your car during a storm?

Michael Faraday was an English physicist and chemist who lived from 1791 to 1867. He proved that electric currents always flow on the outside of metallic bodies and that no electrical effects affect the inside of the cage – this also applies to lightning. Cars, planes, trains and cable car gondolas function as so-called “Faraday cages” to provide protection during storms. If a car is moving, there is still danger: a lightning strike can cause the tires to explode and the car can roll over.

Cyclists and motorcyclists: Stay away from two-wheeled vehicles!

In the event of a thunderstorm, cyclists must dismount immediately and maintain a minimum distance of five meters between themselves and their metal vehicle, driver and wheels. The same applies to motorcyclists. It’s a misconception that rubber tires protect you. The best thing to do is find a safe building or behave like a pedestrian who is surprised by a thunderstorm.

What are the consequences of lightning?

If lightning hits the body directly, you hardly have a chance: in lightning, up to 100 million volts and several 10,000 amps can affect a person in 0.02 seconds. The intensity of the current leads to immediate death from cardiac arrest.

But the lightning victim has a chance: if much of the lightning current does not flow through the person, but rather through the surface of the person’s body. However, serious physical damage occurs, such as paralysis, amnesia, seizures, burns, or heart damage.

Long-term consequences cannot be ruled out

Lightning strikes can also cause secondary damage, such as chronic pain, poor memory, brain and nerve damage, and even personality changes. Because symptoms often only appear months after a lightning strike, many doctors do not associate them with the event.

First aid can save lives

If you witness such an event, you must immediately provide first aid. As a lightning strike can cause cardiac and respiratory arrest, immediate measures are vital for the victim.

  • Call an ambulance.
  • Check circulation and breathing and place the injured person in a protected position.
  • If possible, drink plenty of fluids to avoid shock.
  • Place the unconscious lightning victim in the recovery position.
  • If breathing stops and a pulse can be felt: perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • No pulse, cardiac arrest: perform chest compressions.

Always to the hospital

Even if you are “just” struck by lightning, you will have to go to the hospital for observation within the next 24 hours. During this period, dangerous cardiac arrhythmias can occur, even if the affected person initially feels well.

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