Lightning bolts can strike up to 10 kilometers in front or behind a thunderstorm cell.
A "bolt from the blue sky" is a real entity and is responsible for many strikes on people per year. Thunder travels at the speed of sound. A lightning flash travels at the speed of light. Speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second.
Types of lightning
• Streak lightning which is the most common.
• Ribbon, usually seen in cloud-to-cloud lightning.
• Bead lightning - Persistent lightning that is actually an optical afterimage.
• Ball lightning - Very rare, where there is a cluster or ball of lightning. This is rarely seen.
Lightning does not usually enter the body, but flashes over the exterior. Some charges may leak into the body via the eyes, ears or mouth.
Burns are usually superficial, and usually caused by the heating up of objects close to the skin, belt buckles, bracelets, and rings. It is not uncommon to not have severe burns.
Clothing can be blasted from the body.
THERE IS NO RESIDUAL CHARGE IN THE BODY AFTER A STRIKE. IT IS OKAY TO TOUCH THE VICTIM. BELIEVING OTHERWISE IS A MYTH.
Minor injuries associated with lightning strikes:
• Temporary blindness.
• Temporary deafness.
• Numbness in the extremities.
• Rupture of the eardrum.
These victims usually recover with no serious problems.
Moderate injuries associated with lightning strikes:
• Possibly some paralysis.
• Loss of consciousness.
Victims usually recover; however they have some significant side-effects afterwards.
Severe injuries associated with lightning strikes:
• Cardiopulmonary arrest.
• Direct brain damage.
• Blunt trauma to the brain.
• Blunt trauma to internal organs.
Prognosis is poor.
• Cardiopulmonary arrest can be a primary event and CPR needs to be started within a few seconds. However with animal studies, it has been shown that respiratory paralysis lasts longer, leading to secondary hypoxic cardiac arrest, which means the heart stops due to not enough oxygen to the body.
• Neurological injuries: These can vary. There are invariably fatal. Blood pressure instability is very common and can last for several days.
• Burns: Usually superficial; however deep burns are an indication of electrical passage through the body and carry a very poor prognosis. Burns also occur around metal objects that are on the body and feathering burns are not really burns at all. They are due to the intense shower of electrons across the skin from the lightning strike.
Other injuries that can occur after a lightning strike include:
• Cataracts which can develop very rapidly, within days to weeks, or show up years later.
• Eardrum rupture is also very common.
Treatment of the lightning strike victim:
Lightning does strike twice in the same place. So remove the victim as soon as possible.
CPR should be started immediately if the criteria are met.
Transport the victim as soon as possible to an emergency department.
If multiple victims are down, reverse triage is important. People that are able to talk, move or otherwise show significant signs of life will likely survive. Do not approach those victims first. Victims that are down that are in obvious need of CPR should be tended to first. Patients obviously in cardiac arrest get transported first. Use appropriate spinal precautions.
Some basics about how NOT to get hit by lightning:
1. Don't be the tallest object in the area.
2. Stay off ridgelines and mountaintops.
3. Don't be next to the tallest object in the area.
4. Remember that a storm approximately 10 miles away can reach out and touch you.
5. If you are in the mountains, shelter in a grove of trees staying low, or in a region of rolling hills and staying low are also an options.
6. If in a group, please spread out so that a single strike will not affect all of you.
7. Shelter in a metal vehicle is relatively safe.
8. On a golf course, you clearly more safe in a cart than under a tree.
9. Bolts can be conducted through tree roots, telephone lines, water pipes, electrical wires, cable TV lines, computers, steel reinforcement rods and concrete.
10. Stay out of the bathtub.
11. Stay out of the shower.
12. If caught out in a completely open area, laying flat is not a good idea. Crouching down with feet together is as good a posture as any, as well as hands over your ears. However this is a very hard position to sustain.
13. Stay off all bodies of water in thunderstorm conditions.