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Earth Science
  

Surviving The Storm

CHICAGO (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Lightning safety week starts June 21st. Summer is peak season for lightning. Four hundred people a year are struck by lightning. Many people think the chances of getting hit are slim, but there's a better chance of being struck than winning the lottery.

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The crack of lightning can be heard for miles. A single bolt can be over five miles long, reach temperatures of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million electrical volts. That's what hit Jennifer Foster one summer afternoon.

"I heard an electrical buzz in my ear, kind of a zzzz, and then nothing," Foster recalled to Ivanhoe. "Everything kind of went black and white for a split second."

And then things got worse.

"I couldn't feel anything from my neck down," she described.

Ninety percent of people survive lightning strikes, but most will suffer lifelong medical problems.

"It feels like restless leg syndrome, but it's like that throughout my body and it feels like my insides are just static electricity throughout," Foster said.

The results can be devastating. Emergency medicine physician, Mary Ann Cooper, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is an expert in lightning injuries.

"Lightning is a neurological injury, it's not a burn injury, but it damages the nerves and that's what gives you the pain as well as the thought processing disorders and memory problems," Dr. Cooper explained.

Our skin is a poor conductor of electricity, so most of the energy from a lightning strike will flash over the body's surface. About 50 percent of injuries are from lightning hitting the ground -- the energy spreads out across the earth's surface and can shock anyone nearby. Follow the lightning safety rule to reduce your risk of injury.

"The primary rule that we've settled on now is when thunder roars go indoors," Dr. Cooper said. "It's something you can teach 3 year olds. It's something that adults can remember, it's catchy and it tells you exactly what to do."

It's a simple rule to follow to keep you safe outdoors. Foster knows not to take lightning, lightly.

"I think that everyone just thinks that it's a cool little thing that happened to me, when it's something I'm still dealing with," she explained.

More than 70 percent of lightning fatalities and injuries occur between June and August. Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the states with the most recorded lighting strikes each year.

The American Meteorological Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Mary Ann Cooper, MD, Professor Emerita
Department of Emergency Medicine
Chicago IL, 60612-7354
http://www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury

macooper@uic.edu

American Meteorological Society
Boston, MA 02108-3693
(617) 227-2425
http://www.ametsoc.org


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Surviving the Storm

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Prior Reports
A joint production of Ivanhoe Broadcast News and the American Institute of Physics.
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