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Lightning strikes

Lightning and its effects are currently being studied in weather research laboratories all over the world, using weather-eye satellites in space, radar eyes-in-the-sky, infrared titanium sapphire lasers and other highly sophisticated apparatus capable of measuring to one millionth of a second, and recording 100 flashes of lightning per second.

Researchers confirm that 250million streaks of lightning flash across the sky each year, before finally striking the earth. This means that, on average, 700,000 lightning flashes are active every day, or 2,000 at any given moment.
In Britain, we average about 900 storms a year, and over the past 20 years, human lightning casualties in Britain average 10 fatal cases and 50 injuries each year. People working out in the open during storms, such as police officers, farmworkers, gardeners and those delivering post, milk, bread and other commodities, are among those at the highest risk of being struck by lightning. Yet in Britain the chances of becoming a lightning casualty are quite remote.

The human body offers a target area of about 2m². On average, about five flashes of lightning strike every square mile of target area in Britain per year. So, if someone stood in the open throughout every storm we had in a year, the risk of them being struck by lightning would be about 200,000:1.

Under normal circumstances, the risk factor for a man is about 400,000,000:1. He is more likely to win the National Lottery, football pool or premium bond prize, or be involved in a serious accident.

Our main thunderstorm season starts in May and goes through to October, with July and August consistently the worst-hit months. Most of our storms start on the east coast, then flash across several counties before returning to their originating point and petering out.

Generally, people living in East Anglia see more lightning than those living in Lancashire or Wales, but there are areas that inexplicably remain storm-free. One such strip of land, even on the east coast, enjoys this strange immunity. It stretches about 50 miles south west of the Wash, across the Fens and into Leicestershire.

Lyme Bay in Dorset and the Hebrides in Scotland are other areas where few storms are recorded. Lightning travels at 186,000 miles per second ? the speed of light. Thunder travels at 1,100 feet per second ? the speed of sound. This means that a gap of five seconds between flash and crash indicates that a storm is one mile away. A thunderclap cannot normally be heard more than 18 miles away.

There is little truth in the theory that lightning never strikes the same place twice, apart from tall buildings, such as the Empire State Building in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which have been struck as many as 50 times during a year. A detached private house in Newport, Monmouthshire, was also struck by lightning on five separate occasions over 14 years.

Flocks of birds have been struck in flight and dropped to the ground ready-cooked. Several acres of potatoes were once struck, baking many tons of them in their jackets.

Roy Sullivan, an unlucky American, was struck by lightning on seven different occasions over a period of 35 years. Ironically, he died from wounds inflicted when adjusting his own shotgun ? it exploded in his face. Possibly the person most affected by lightning was Martha Matikia, a Bulgarian peasant woman. She married three times and each one of her husbands suffered instantaneous death when struck by lightning.

A flash of lightning once came down the chimney of a country cottage in Lincolnshire, jumped to an iron bed where two children were sleeping, shot across a table at which the rest of the family were sitting, then disappeared into a larder. Nobody was hurt, but cake tins in the larder were fused together and a previously uncooked ham roasted.

A 70-year-old Yorkshire woman, who had been blind for more than three years, had her sight restored during a severe storm. With each flash of lightning she became more aware of its brilliance and finally could see again. It is not recommended that any similar sufferers should seek such a drastic miracle cure. Lightning is best avoided, particularly when out in the open.

If caught outside in a bad storm, never shelter under trees and keep away from wire or metal fences. If indoors when lightning is flashing, don?t stand near a stove, refrigerator or deep freezer, as these large metal objects act as excellent conductors.