Tuesday, July 17, 2007
How come that trout that swam by is already cooked?
If you eat that salami sandwich and go back into the ocean you will get struck by lightning! --When I was a kid, my mother would drive me crazy when we were down the shore (that's a Jerseyism). She insisted that I had to wait a half hour after lunch before going back into the water. You'd get cramps if you didn't wait, she said. I did not want to wait. Everyone was told that, and it became a factoid (original meaning of the word: a small factually incorrect statement that is repeated so often it is believed to be true). It isn't true. You don't get cramps if you go back into the water within a half hour.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to get my daughter and her friend from the local swimming pool. There were thunderstorms in the area and of course they cleared the pool. Sounds reasonable. This is a universally held safety measure--clearing pools in thunderstorms--but I can't actually remember a single instance of reading about someone getting killed when lightning hit a swimming pool. I have a vague recollection of someone zapped while swimming in the ocean, but not a pool. With too much time I my hands, I did a bit of research. I still haven't found a case of someone dying from a lightning strike to a swimming pool, indoor or outdoor. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen or that you should stay in the pool when thunder booms about you, but it must be a really rare occurrence. Moreover, I have yet to find a single database containing information on people killed in pools by lightning.
In one survey, data from 1990-1994, showed 51,835 people died in swimming pools for unspecified reasons, almost all, I would think drowning. Thirteen hundred died in wading pools. Not one death was recorded specifically from lightning strikes. One survey of indoor pools made by a professional organization reported not a single database included deaths from lightning in indoor pools, which also are supposed to be cleared in thunderstorms. Standing in an open field seems to be the most dangerous thing you can do in a storm (27% of deaths) and of course there's golf (5%), another reason not to play the silly game. Eight percent of deaths were water related, but that included boating and fishing as well as swimming. The swimming component was not broken down, but I'll bet most of those people were in metal boats. (The most dangerous state, by the way, is Florida, another reason not to live in that awful place).
I am fully aware that if everyone got out of pools during storms, there wouldn't be any instances on Google or Yahoo. But this is a species in which thousands of people "tough it out" in hurricanes, build houses on flood plains and believe in creation science. Surely some idiots stay in swimming pools when the sky opens up.
You get sentences like: "Nearly 100 Americans die from lightning strikes each year, and a high percentage of these deaths occur in summer when people are swimming and participating in other water sports." I bet some of them were also barbecuing, playing golf or up on the roof fixing the antenna.
All the experts agree you should evacuate the pool at the first sign of lightning. I just wonder if the risk isn't greatly exaggerated. If you know of any incidence of death by bolt in a pool, pass it on and I'll post it.
Now my favorite lightning story of the year, A man named Hailu Kidane Marian was roaming the streets of Hialeah, Florida, selling religious books when he was struck by lightning out of a clear blue sky. When paramedics arrived he was not breathing and his heart had stopped beating, and he was essentially dead. They revived him, however, and he is in critical condition at a local hospital. "He's unconscious, he's in a coma," the head of the religious group said. "It's difficult what happened, you now, but what can we do? Things happen in life, but we still believe in God."
[Thank you, Gayle]