Monthly Archives: October 2008

Map – When Lightning Strikes

When lightning strikes, a life can be drastically changed. This was the case for me in July of 2006 when my best friend, Lee Weisbrod, was struck by lightning and passed away. Check out my map that shows the area in Bergen County where the lightning strike occurred in addition to immediate surrounding towns that have lightning detection systems installed to prevent another tragedy from happening.

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Let Me Shock You

Here’s what I’m looking at today…

  • A study finds a relationship between global climate, weather patterns, and the formation and movement of intense storms such as those that produce lightning and thunder.
  • Take the lightning quiz and see how much you know!
  • United States lightning activity in the last 60 minutes provided by StrikeStarUS.
  • PBS explains the fundamentals of lightning and even provides answers from expert Joe Dwyer of The Florida Institute of Technology.
  • The Lightning Injury Research Program provides lightning strike survivors with an informational and educational tool in addition to information and educational tools for parents and teachers.
  • Dr. John M. Horack, Director of Science Communications, discusses what happens when individuals get struck by lightning.

What shocking sites are you looking at?

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Is Lightning Attracted to Umbrellas?

I’m a college student and I live on campus at Rowan University. This means my main mode of transportation around the medium-sized public university campus is my own two feet. That being said, on Saturday I was walking through campus on my way to the Rec Center while heavy rain was falling with my umbrella.

While walking, I was thinking about the storm that was supposed to hit the area later that night and how the storm wasn’t going to stop numerous college students from walking during the thunder and lightning to get to the local bar, Landmark, to root on the Philadelphia Phillies during Game 3 of the World Series.

By the time they’d get to the bar, they’d be soaking wet – unless they used an umbrella. But how safe is using an umbrella while walking through a thunder/lightning storm?

According to Ron Holle, research meteorologist at the NOAA National Severe Storm Laboratory, you are pretty safe.

Lightning only searches within a 50-yard radius both upward and downward. This means that lightning is attracted to tall objects such as hills, trees, towers, buildings, and yes – at times – umbrellas.

If you are walking with an umbrella in an area composed of tall buildings, lightning will strike the tallest object. However, you must be careful for the “side flash,” when lightning strikes something close to where you are standing and then jumps from that to you.

If you are already the only tall object within 50 yards, it doesn’t matter much what you are holding (umbrella included) so get somewhere safe – skip the gym or class if you have to (sorry, professors!).

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Deaths Each Year by Lightning

Lightning seems to be the underrated killer. People often underestimate the power of Mother Nature. In the United States alone, there is an estimate of 25 million lightning flashes each year. According to NOAA’s Weather Service in the past thirty years, lightning has caused the death of an average of 62 people per year.

From - Lightning fatalities, injuries and damage reports in the United States, 1959 - 1994, by B. Curran and R. Holle. Updated 1995 - 2007 by Matt Bragaw

From - Lightning fatalities, injuries and damage reports in the United States, 1959 - 1994, by B. Curran and R. Holle. Updated 1995 - 2007 by Matt Bragaw

While these stats are pretty high, lightning is often underrated as a risk due to lightning only killing one or two people at a time and due to lightning not causing much physical property damage.

The National Weather Service estimates the US’s average of lightning deaths each year to be 67 although the number is estimated to be closer to 100. And believe it or not, only ten percent of the people struck each year die from their injuries.

In New Jersey between 1997-2006, there was 9 reported deaths by lightning.

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Football Association Puts Safety Into Writing

Hillsdale N.J. recently put lightning safety into their town football association guidelines. The policy expects coaches, umpires, coordinators, or the adult in charge to sign the policy so they are aware of the safety practice in addition to the penalties they face if they disregard the policy. Continue reading

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What is Lightning Detection Anyway?

Lightning detection quite simply works by listening for identifying noises on a radio spectrum to determine the strength and ultimately the distance of lightning strikes in the area. The detector uses directional antennas to determine the distance of the lightning. The data is then sent to software that plots the strikes on a map.

The National Lightning Safety Institute released an overview of lightning detection equipment article yesterday. In the article, NLSI stresses the importance of lightning detection systems due to their ability to give notice to shut down dangerous operations before the arrival of lightning. In addition, after lightning the detection gives an “all clear” signal, which is highly influential to the public.

According the NLSI, the available technologies currently include:

  1. Radio Frequency (RF) Detectors – measure energy discharges from lightning
  2. Inferometers – more precise and require a skilled operator
  3. The National Lightning Detection Network
  4. Atmospheric Field Mill Monitors – measure voltage changes of Earth’s electric field and report changes, which build lightning
  5. Optical Monitors – earlier warning, which detects the cloud-to-cloud lightning that occurs before cloud-to-ground lightning
  6. Hybrid Designs – combination of other technology designs
  7. Subscription Services (such as accuweather.com, intellicast.com, skyview-wx.com, etc.)

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Examples of Safety Progress

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