What you need to know: lightning facts and myths

Print
Email
|

by KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on September 7, 2013 at 8:09 AM

Thursday, a man in Washington state was struck by lightning while riding his motorcycle. You might think his rubber tires would insulate him, but that's not the case.

Lightning strikes can contain millions of watts of power. Some strikes are more power than others, but they are brief.

According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, your chances of being hit by lightning in any given year are about one in 280,000.

Last night, 6,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were recorded in Western Washington, which isn't a part of the country known for its lightning activity. That's why the National Weather Service is going to analyze the storm further.

"I don't know if I want to say it was the biggest lightning event, but it's certainly up there," said Kirby Cook, a science officer with the NWS.

There are many myths associated with lightning. One is that it doesn't travel that far.

"Lightning can travel 30 miles. You don't have to be right under a thunderstorm," said Cook.

You are actually pretty well protected in a car. You're not safe because of the insulation from tires -- you're safe because when lightning strikes the roof, it is conducted around you. The electricity from the bolt travels down through the window columns.

On motorcycle however, you could be in trouble. It was around Centralia that Michael Ladue was hit while riding on Interstate 5.

"Water is a good conductor. So if you're riding on your motorcycle and you're getting rained on, and the pavement's wet. Forget about any insulation from the rubber tires," said Professor Robert Holzworth, a lightning expert from the University of Washington. Holzworth developed a global system for detecting lighting strikes.

Besides, Holzworth adds, a steel belted radial is full of steel -- a conductor.

Motorcycles are not safe, anymore than somebody standing on the golf links.

Does speed matter? Lighting is fast. 60,000 miles per second so even if you're on a motorcycle at 60 mph you might as well be sitting still.

Related link: World Wide Lightning Location Network

Print
Email
|