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Killed By Lightning

How does it feel to be struck by lightning? William Schwandt of Grand Rapids, Mich., knows. He was working on his car when a lightning bolt got him. “It felt like my whole arm was on fire. I was putting some bolts on the drive shaft, and I looked up at the wrench. It lit right up. My arm got hot, and that’s all I remember.”

Normally lightning victims, like Schwandt, are knocked out when the shock hits. They wake up (if they wake up) complaining of numbness and paralysis in their arms and legs, which gradually disappears. Their recovery is usually complete. But not everyone wakes up.

More people are killed by lightning than by any other natural disaster—an average of 300 a year in the U.S. Some of these people need not die. Lightning packs such a punch, and stops life so instantaneously, that evidently the victim’s body cells may not begin to die for some time— doctors are not sure just how long. Prompt and prolonged treatment of the “dead” can bring them back to life. The best way to stay alive, though, is to steer clear of dangerous situations.

One good way to tell if lightning is likely to strike is to turn on your AM radio and turn the volume up. Heavy static means potential trouble. The safest place when you’re caught out in the open is a car (never a convertible) with the windows up. The lightning will run down the steel frame into the ground. Low ground is the best place if you don’t have a car handy. Avoid wire fences—they can carry a jolt quite a distance. Don’t carry a golf club, fishing rod, metal tennis racket or even an umbrella over your head. That’s like carrying a lightning rod. Water is a good conductor, and a lightning bolt can electrocute swimmers up to 500 yards away. If you’re swimming or out in a small boat when a storm brews, head for shore. Surprisingly, 25% of lightning deaths occur indoors. During a lightning storm, you should avoid the telephone, metal objects, appliances, TVs. Don’t take a bath or do the dishes.

Campus Life, May, 1973, p. 24