Lightning: To crouch or not to crouch...?
* Chance of storms today, hot weekend ahead: Full Forecast *
Some of you may remember my post from a few weeks ago in which I discussed lightning myths and lightning safety. A particular reader, Michael Utley, who hosts his own website on this subject, was concerned that I advocated the "lightning crouch" as a last resort for lightning protection in an open field, despite the fact that the National Weather Service (NWS) itself suggests this position. He felt that we were endangering lives by doing so. Utley wrote:
Do you really think that going from 6' tall to 4' tall [crouching] is going to make a difference to something [lightning] moving at a couple million miles an hour, 5 times hotter than the sun, with the power of a small power plant, then I have a bridge to show you. In a perfectly flat world, it [crouching] 'MIGHT' make a difference, but there is no 'perfectly flat' place to be.
So what should be done when a thunderstorm strikes suddenly and shelter is nowhere around?
Keep reading for more on the crouching dilemma...
Unfortunately, the answer is not as clear as one would hope. Certainly the old advice, which was to lie flat on the ground, should never be heeded, since although this action reduces one's height (a good thing), we now know that it greatly increases exposure to possible ground current. Although the NWS has, indeed, recommended the "crouch" as a last resort, the NWS's lightning expert himself, John Jensenius, told me that the advantage is slight--not as great as some NWS websites imply.
However, rather than asking people to focus on appropriate countermeasures when stranded in an open field, the overwhelming theme emanating from Jensenius and the NWS is preparedness and avoidance. When the potential for threatening weather exists, heed the latest warnings and advisories and try to stay out of harm's way. In Jensenius's opinion, few situations warrant squatting or crouching in an open field. More specifically, he says:
- Plan ahead, including knowing where you'll go for safety;
- Cancel or postpone activities if thunderstorms are in the forecast;
- If the trip must be undertaken (during potentially threatening weather), try to insure that the destination is within walking distance of a safe place (hard-topped metal vehicle or substantial building).
- If thunder occurs, get to the safe place immediately.
With 30-40 lightning days per year here, it is obviously impractical to postpone or cancel events (or attendance at events) every time thunderstorms are "in the forecast." Consequently, one has to make an informed decision based on their percentage chance of occurring.
Personally, with respect to outdoor events, unless the event is canceled, I rarely change attendance plans when there's less than a 40% chance of lightning and, I confess, seldom make changes even at higher percentages. However, I always have "an eye to the sky," and that "safe place" in mind. I will make a better effort in the future, however, to practice what I preach.
How about you? How do you prepare for lightning?
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