Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Dramatic Way to Go

This season Brigitte has frequently said (touch wood): “We are so lucky!” She means that  dramatic events caused by weather have left us more or less untouched: No tornadoes, forest fires, no searing drought, no flooding flash or otherwise. Of late we’ve had rather a lot of rain, to be sure, but what with a new lawn having been put down as May expired, that has been a benefit. But frequent rain or even the distant threat of a thunderstorm have cut into the summer’s twice-weekly swimming exercise.

Yesterday, for instance, a session was called off at its midpoint because a vast cloud formation moved in. The cloud was quite magnificent—a layered mirage of tan, grey, and faint blue haze, towering. From within came the very distant but clearly perceptible sound of thunder—whereupon the folk who run our Pier Park pool shooed all swimmers from the water, blowing whistles, and a long line of young-and-old in swimsuits and draped in big towels began to form a thick snake headed for the parking lot.

When lightning hits water, massive waves of electric current spread, endangering life. Even when seemingly distant, rapid action is wise. We drove home. By the time we got there, the cloud was gone; not a drop of rain disfigured our concrete. At the pool a few drops fell on the windshield, but not enough to run the wiper.

Got to thinking about lighting in the pool. In this day and age, the most arcane kinds of information are very easy to get. Hence I present here a tabulation of deaths by lightning in the 1959-2005 period from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lightning kills on average 46 people every year. There are 2.5 million deaths a year according to the CDC—therefore death by lightning is extremely rare—and a rather dramatic way to go. Herewith the stats:

Lightning deaths and location of occurrence, 1959-2005
Number
Percent
of deaths
of deaths
Open fields, ball parks and open spaces
596
28
Under trees
363
17
Boating, fishing, and water related
271
13
Near tractors, heavy road equipment
158
7
Golf courses
83
4
At telephones
18
1
Various other and unknown locations
622
29

Fewer than six deaths of this type take place yearly related to boating, fishing, and other water venues—an even tinier fraction. And as for death caused by lighting striking pools—well it happens so rarely that from a statistical point of view it might as well be never. But we appreciate Pier Park’s decisive action in clearing that pool. Such things also contribute to being lucky.

The table comes from a 2005 NOA report (link). The image is from XWeather.org, a weather blog (link).

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