Did you know that swimming outdoors puts you at greater risk for being struck by lightning? Since summertime is the peak time of year for both swimming and the deadliest weather phenomena in the US, this issue bears consideration for any swimming pool owner. How significant is the risk? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (PDF), more than 60 people are killed each ear in the US due to lightning. (Compared to over 3,000 fatal unintentional drownings, that may not seem significant, but lightning still poses a risk.)
In addition to the risk of fatality, non-fatal lightning strikes can result in long-term problems, including sleep disorders, numbness, and memory loss. As a pool owner, the risk of a lightning strike is definitely something you should understand.
What happens to cause lightning in the first place? Essentially, a thunderstorm creates a separation between positive and negative charges, as the air within the storm rises and falls. Ice and water particles can further influence the distribution of the electrical charge, and lightning is the result of the buildup and discharge of electrical energy. Most lightning occurs either between the cloud and the ground or within the cloud.
To give you an idea of how powerful lightning is, the air surrounding a lightning strike has been measured to be 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which make it even hotter than the sun’s surface! And the average lightning flash would be able to keep a 100-watt light bulb lit for longer than 3 months.
The heating and cooling of air surrounding the lightning channel results in a shock wave that, in turn, produces thunder. You should realize that if you’re close enough to hear thunder, you’re also close enough to be struck by lightning. An added risk factor is time of day: most lightning strikes occur during the afternoon or early evening. In addition, almost all lightning fatalities have occurred outdoors. Many of them have taken place while people are doing particular activities, such as the following:
- standing by a tree
- playing soccer
- mowing the lawn
- fishing in a boat
- riding a bike
- loading a truck
- talking on the phone
Some people think that certain situations are safe, when they are not. One lightning-related myth is that if the sky above is clear and there’s no rain, a person is safe from lighting. In fact, lightning can strike many miles from the thunderstorm. If there are storms in your area, you’re at risk, regardless of the skies immediately above you. While they may be infrequent, lightning strikes can actually occur up to 15 miles from the actual storm.
Another myth many people believe is that if they’re indoors, they’re completely safe. While taking shelter is definitely a good idea, lightning can still strike. To reduce risks, avoid taking baths or showers or using electrical appliances or land line telephones during a thunderstorm. Be aware that the following household items can conduct lighting:
- metal door and window frames
- electrical cords
- telephone lines
Continue reading with Part 2.
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