How does lightning kill? What you should do to stay safe, details here

Published: July 13,2021 01:02 PM

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A total of 1,619 people died due to lightning between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. In Assam 46 deaths were reported and 18 elephants died due to lightning

July 13, 2021: In a single day over 70 people including 9 children died in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan due to lightning. This happened within a month of 27 people dying in several districts of West Bengal due to the same natural calamity. Eighteen elephants were killed due to lightning in Assam in May this year.

According to the second annual lightening report of India, the number of lightning strikes in India has gone up by 34% from 1.38 crore in 2019-2020 to 1.85 crore strikes in 2020-21. At least 1,619 people died due to lightning between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.  Let us find out what lightning really is and how does it kill humans and animals.


What is Lightning?

Lightning is a natural phenomenon. It occurs when there is sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects. There are three commonly known lightning types – one that occurs inside a single thundercloud, one that occurs between two different clouds, and the third variety is when it happens between a cloud and the ground. It is the cloud-to-ground form of lightning that kills humans, as well as animals and livestock, and can damage property.


How Does Lightning Kill?

A typical lightning flash is about 300 million volts and about 30,000 amps. Compare this to the current we use at our homes which is just 120 volts and 15 amps. This explains why lightning kills.

In 2020-21, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand have witnessed the maximum lightning strikes but Bihar with 40 deaths, Uttar Pradesh with 238 deaths and Madhya Pradesh with 228 deaths tops the list of deaths due to lightning strikes. Assam ranked 9th with 46 deaths. A whopping 71% deaths happened for standing under tree to take shelter from lightning.


When Does A Lightning Strike?

Lightning has been generally observed to strike during second half of the day. However, during intense cloud movement with high wind speed, especially during monsoon and cyclonic activities, lightning may occur anytime. Lightning also depends on local geographical conditions like its different in coastal region, hilly areas and river basins, the report said.

The Odisha-West Bengal-Jharkhand belt is more prone as lightning strikes originate from Chot Nagpur Plateau and extended to Bangladesh to Patkai plateau of Meghalaya.

The report has also mentioned that the seasonality of lightning is different for different states. For example, Kalbaishakhi (Nor 'Wester's) claims life in eastern India and pre-monsoon lightning deaths occur mostly in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and UP.

The IMD issues lightning forecasts -- Medium range for 3-5 days, short range 1-3 days , nowcast 2-3 hours and Damini app 40 minutes location specific. But there is lack of protocol and mechanism for last mile public notification and interventions. This is resulting in many deaths due to lightning as people are caught unaware, out in the open and lightning strikes killing them on the spot.


How to Save Yourself from Lightning?


•             If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity.

•             When you hear the thunder, go indoors. Even hard-top vehicles with the windows rolled up are safe.

•             Suspend activities for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

•             If you are outside in the open, immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.

•             Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears.

•             Never stand under an isolated tree.

•             Never take shelter on a cliff or hilltop.

•             Stand away from ponds, lakes, and other water bodies.

•             Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (such as barbed wire fences, power lines, or windmills).

•             Stay away from concrete floors or walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

•             Being indoors does not mean you are protected from lightning.

•             Avoid contact with water during a thunderstorm.

•             Do NOT bathe, wash dishes, or have any contact with water.

•             Lightning can travel through plumbing.

•             Avoid using electronic equipment of all types.

•             Lightning can travel through radio and television reception systems.

•             Avoid using corded phones. Cordless or cellular phones are safe to use during a storm.

•             Avoid concrete floors and walls. Do NOT lie on concrete floors during a thunderstorm.

•             Avoid leaning on concrete walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

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