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You are currently viewing One lightning strike and it’s all over

Oh calamity.  The morning started bright and sunny and 16 us from Bristol Nordic Walking piled into cars and headed to Cosmeston Country Park, Cardiff, for the fourth ever UK Nordic Walking Challenge Event.  We’ve had plenty of success in the past – PBs broken and medals won.  We were hoping for more of the same – especially with so many of our walkers on top walking fitness and form.  But sunshine and heat (and some equally searing lap times) turned into cloud, wind, rain and then – yes – thunder and lightening. Just one clap, but it was massive.

Lightning is dangerous. Currently, about 30-60 people are struck by lightning each year in Britain of whom, on average, three may be killed.

So you don’t want to mess around with lightening.  Especially when walking with two poles with metal spikes on the end.  Granted the handles are made of plastic and cork, which are poor conductors, but it’s not worth the risk.  Our policy at Bristol Nordic Walking is never to walk in thunderstorms.  If one starts while we are part way through a walk we will abandon it.  So it was no surprise that the organisers of the Challenge Event abandoned the race once the lightning struck.

It was absolutely the right decision.  But oh we were so disappointed.  A few of us looked poised for winners’ medals, both individual and team.  Glory was cruelly snatched from us and we’ll have to do it all again another day.  Congratulations though to all who took part.  Also for some seriously impressive 5km lap times, many of which were over 4mph.  That shows how fantastic your fitness levels are and it’s a real reflection of the effort you have put in.  You should be well chuffed.  You’ve earned that success by committing to your health, working on your technique, and coming Nordic walking regularly with us.  I hope you’ve also found it fun.  Certainly there have been a lot of laughs along the way and some good friendships formed.

Finally, given today’s events, I thought you might be interested in the following advice from Torro (the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation) on where lightning strikes and what precautions you can take.

Where Lightning Strikes
Lightning may strike a person directly when out in the open or indirectly from, say, a side flash from a nearby tree. When lightning strikes the ground, radial currents spread out from that location and these may give someone nearby an electrical shock. Lightning striking a house may result in the current passing through metal pipes and electrical wiring. This can mean that someone touching a radiator, light switch or a telephone when a house is struck experiences an electrical shock.

Taking Precautions to Reduce the Risk of Being Struck by Lightning
Fortunately most people survive a lightning strike. While the chances of being struck and killed by lightning in Britain are small, you can improve your chances of not being struck in the first place by following some simple precautions during a thunderstorm:

  • Avoid wide, open spaces or exposed hilltops and don’t shelter beneath tall or isolated trees. Seek shelter inside a large building or a motor vehicle. Check and take heed of weather forecasts of thunderstorms when planning a day walking in the hills, sailing and playing golf.
  • If you are swimming, windsurfing or sailing, get to the shore as quickly as possible. Move away from wide, open beaches and seek shelter inside a large building or motor vehicle.
  • If caught out in the open during a thunderstorm, discontinue carrying umbrellas, fishing rods, golf clubs and other large metal objects. Keep away from metal objects such as motorcycles, golf carts, bicycles, wire fences and rails
  • If your hair stands on end or nearby objects begin to buzz, move quickly away as lightning may be about to strike. These effects happen because the positive electrical charges forming at the ground are streaming upwards to try to make contact with the advancing downward negatively-charged ‘leader’. Lightning does not always follow, as not all of the upward discharges make contact with the leader, but it is best to move away as a precaution. Seek shelter in a large building or motor vehicle.
  • If caught out in the open with no shelter nearby, move to a place of lower elevation such as a hollow or dry ditch. Crouch down (to lower your height) with both feet close together. Do not place your feet wide apart or lie flat on the ground as this will increase the difference in voltage across your body, increasing the electrical charge you may receive from radial ground currents, if lightning strikes the ground nearby. Tuck your head in and place your hands on your knees.
  • If inside a motor vehicle stay there during the thunderstorm. It will protect you as long as you do not touch the metal of the car body. A lightning strike will normally be safely conducted over the metal bodywork of the vehicle before earthing to the ground over the wet tyres (that are sometimes damaged slightly).
  • When indoors, keep away from windows, avoid touching metal pipes or radiators. If lightning strikes a television aerial, the cable may conduct the current into the building where it can jump to other wiring or metal piping circuits. Do not use a telephone except in an emergency.
  • Finally, give first-aid (and contact paramedics promptly) to anyone struck by lightning to help them recover. You will not receive an electrical shock as they carry no electrical charge. Act promptly.

Happy – safe – walking.