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26 March, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Lightning hazards and safety precautions

Deforestation is one of the causes of enhancing the problem, with the lack of trees making farmers working in fields a target for lightning strikes
A.K.M. Saiful Islam
Lightning hazards and safety precautions

Every year more than 200 people died in Bangladesh from lightning. According to the CNN, last year, 57 people are killed in the country from lightning in two days during 12-13 May. During pre-monsoon (March-May) and monsoon (June-September), lightning and thunderstorms occurred in Bangladesh. Such a loss of human life can be avoided by taking safe shelters during the lightning. Therefore, we must take serious action to reduce death tolls from lightning. 

Recently, government of Bangladesh has taken an initiative for planting one million palm trees nationwide to help prevent hundreds of people being killed by lightning strikes every year. Deforestation has one of cause of enhancing the problem, with the lack of trees making farmers working in fields a target for lightning strikes. However, planting of palm trees can only reduce the fatalities of lightning and it will take time to grow! 
  Climate Change will increase lightning strikes: The scientists from the University of California, Berkeley has published a paper on the journal which shown that lightning will increase with the global warming. At the end of the century climate change will cause 50% more lightning strikes. They have also found that lightning strikes would increase by about 12% for every 1 degree centigrade of global warming. Every two strikes at the beginning of the century will be every three strikes at the end of the century. Hence, under the changing climate, lightning death toll will expected to rise unless we take necessary measures. 
Mythes and facts about lightning
A few myths or people’s perceptions about lightning which are not always true. Common mythes and facts about lightning are listed bellows as published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-
Myth: If you're caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.
Fact: Crouching doesn't make you any safer outdoors. Run to a substantial building or hard topped vehicle. If you are too far to run to one of these options, you have no good alternative. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors. See our safety page for tips that may slightly reduce your risk.
Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year
Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.
Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. 
When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Don't lean on doors during a thunderstorm.
Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!
Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!
Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.
Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.
Fact: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough. No game is worth death or life-long injuries. Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder. Adults are responsible for the safety of children.
Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. 
Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter don’t waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.
Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.
Myth: lightning flashes are 3-4 km apart
Fact: Old data said successive flashes were on the order of 3-4 km apart. New data shows half the flashes are about 9 km apart. It appears the safety rules need to be modified to increase the distance from a previous flash which can be considered to be relatively safe, to at least 10 to 13 km (6 to 8 miles). 
Myth: Lightning Can Spread out Some 60 Feet After Striking Earth.
Fact: Radial horizontal arcing has been measured at least 20 m. from the point where lightning hits ground. 
Lightning safety
Awareness and safety measures can drastically reduce lightning fatalities. Lightning safety measures can be taken if you are inside an unsafe shelter or outside. 
Outside safety measures
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:
•     Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.
•    Avoid water during a thunderstorm. Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.
•     Never lie flat on the ground. 
•     Never shelter under an isolated tree.
•     Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
• Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (light post, power lines etc.).
Indoor safety measures
•     Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
•     Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
•     Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
•     Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.
Long terms and short term planning for the lightening safety 
We appreciate Government for declaring lightening as a natural disaster. However, we need long-term and short term planning to reduce fatalities from lightning disaster. A few suggestions which can be considered-
•     Planting tall trees such as palm trees in the villages and sub urban areas.
•     Installation of the lightning rod in every building should be included in the building code. 
•    Creating awareness on the Lightning safety by organizing trainings, seminars etc. in the union level. 
•     Lightening safety guidelines should be included in the children's curriculum starting from the primary schools.
•     Lightening safety measures should be published in the television, radios, and dramas. 
•     Area specific lightning forecast from Bangladesh Meteoroidal Department (BMD) can be disseminated by emails, websites and mobile sms. 
We must remember, when thunder roars, go indoors!

The writer is a Professor of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Bangladesh. He can be emailed at akmsaifulislam@iwfm.buet.ac.bd.

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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