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Nature's Fireworks: Dazzling But Deadly

Cloud-to-ground lightning on average kills about 100 people per year in the US. It is especialy dangerous to anglers out on the water.1 / 3
The power of lightning is clearly shown as this mature red oak was blown to pieces.2 / 3
Cloud-to-cloud lightning is especialy fun to watch, and less dagerour than cloud-to-ground lightning.3 / 3

One might reason that a person's chance of being struck by lightning is akin to winning the lottery, but that's not true. According to various weather information sources, 80 to 100 people in the U.S. die from being struck by lightning each year. Many more are injured.

One study of lightning strikes by NOAA's National Weather Service looked at data from 2006 to 2012. Not surprisingly, summertime outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, boating, soccer and golf were responsible for the most lightning deaths. Fishing topped the list.

Although lightning is captivating and dazzling to watch, it is obviously also powerful and deadly. Those who frequent the outdoors should stay tuned to the weather around them. Be aware of approaching storm fronts.

Move indoors during a thunderstorm or take refuge in a vehicle. Anglers especially should allow extra time to get off a lake. Once indoors, stay away from appliances, metal pipes, faucets, etc. Don't talk on a landline telephone or use hand-held plug-in appliances.

If caught outdoors, avoid objects that stand out from their surrounding like tall trees or telephone poles. When caught in the open, move to a low area, crouch down with your head as low as possible, touching the ground only with your feet. Don't lie down. Do not touch metal objects like fences, golf clubs, umbrellas or fishing rods.

Remember that lightning can strike far ahead of a distant storm cloud, even though the sky above might be clear.

Certain signals might alert you lightning is about to strike. Objects such as golf clubs or fishing rods might start to buzz or crackle. Your skin could tingle and your hair may stand on end. This is caused by a buildup of positive charges—you or your gear are now the lightning rod. Immediately crouch low, but again, do not lie down.

Anglers casting for fish instead of trolling or bobber fishing might find their fishing line will not settle down to the water after the cast when a thunderstorm is nearby.

That happened to me a few years ago. A friend and I were casting for bass on a summer afternoon as a towering thundercloud loomed on the western horizon. At one point I made a long a cast to a bassy looking spot. My lure splashed into the water, but I stared in amazement as my line stayed suspended in the air.

"I don't like the looks of that," I said to my partner.

Immediately we ceased fishing and began the 10 or so mile trek to the boat landing, throttle buried. We didn't make it there in time. A ferocious thunderstorm descended upon us, forcing to seek shelter in the woods of secluded bay. There we waited out the nasty weather. Several bolts of lightning hit so close we had no time to brace for the thunderclap.

The lesson is to allow plenty of time to get to safety.

I've always liked the golfer's adage when they see a lightning storm approaching. "Remember, Mother Nature can hit a two iron."

Lightning facts

• When you see distant lightning, begin counting. If you hear thunder before the count of 30, head for shelter.

• If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm and can be struck by lightning despite the sky conditions above.

• Lightning carries a charge of roughly 100 million volts. A lightning bolt heats the surrounding air to 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

• Heat lightning is thought by many to be lightning that is somehow formed on clear, hot and humid summer nights. However, since lightning can be visible up to 300 miles away, the distant flashes we often see on warm summer nights are merely lightning flashes from a far away thunderstorm.

Information for this article was obtained from a variety of internet sources, including the National Weather Service.

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.

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