Thursday, December 18, 2014

Electrifying tales

Lightning strikes, again and again and again.

Electrifying tales

Warren Avert caught this photo of lightning during a serious storm that ripped through the Philadelphia region Monday night.
Warren Avert caught this photo of lightning during a serious storm that ripped through the Philadelphia region Monday night.

A loyal reader recently heard something outrageous from the boss: She won’t take a shower during a thunderstorm lest lightning work its way through the pipes serving her building.

We have not encountered hard data on lightning-related injuries that have occurred in showers, and we know nothing about the plumbing system in question.

However, it is a fact that metal conducts lightning, and metal piping certainly could serve as such a conductor.

In its lightning-safety literature, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advises against washing hands, taking showers, or doing dishes during thunderstorms.

Cars generally are safe places in a storm. However, keep in mind that the protection is afforded by the metal – not the rubber tires – and you don’t want to be in a convertible or motorcycle in a storm.

Lightning comes in various forms and strike capabilities. The type that travels through pipes is known as conduction lightning.

Perhaps the most-dangerous variety is the direct strike, which can be fatal, since a portion of the current can travel through the cardiovascular system.

We aren’t sure which type of lightning might have struck 14-year-old David Bodkin-Parris in Glenolden on Monday night.

The Inquirer’s Erin McCarthy caught up with him afterward, and fortunately, he appears to be fine. Here is her story, in which David expresses confidence that it won’t happen again.

The odds are with him. The chances that any individual will be struck in an 80-year lifetime are about 1 in 12,000.

But getting zapped once doesn’t rule out getting hit twice; one shot doesn’t grant lifetime immunity.  

It so happens that Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the national leaders in raw numbers of lightning deaths, reporting 24 from 2004 to 2013.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
About this blog

Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

Reach Tony at twood@phillynews.com.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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