Monday, July 14, 2014

That Thing About Lightning and of Course Chasing the Storm.

Yes! Lightning is most dangerous!

Recently the National News has been Broadcasting about the Dangers and Mishaps, even Deaths in just the Past Year due to Lightning Strikes. 

The numbers are staggering to say the least (see below). It is almost as if the odds have gotten better to get struck by lightning than ever before. Perhaps even better now than winning the lottery. More and more videos and photos come out almost daily of gorgeous and not so gorgeous strikes. The not so gorgeous ones are the warnings to heed. Some show trees getting turned into shrapnel, others simply show just how close one can get to a strike and last but not least, actual strikes hitting humans that thought they were safe. Even a storm chaser can get nailed as there is no guarantee as seen here:

In this case, even though sitting in a car, the iPhone, his arm and perhaps the metal of the car itself simply attracted the "grounding point" for this strike. Let's just say he was extremely lucky to have walked (driven) away from this to even submit this video to YouTube.

Let's Talk about the Reality of Lightning and Get Rid of Some Misnomers.

  1. It's impossible to get struck by lightning while filming a storm from a distance. Although this has been the belief of many, it is furthest from the truth! See the video above. Lightning can travel quite a distance away from any storm. As a matter of fact, lightning will do whatever the hell it wants to do. It has no rules. It will seek out the nearest and fastest point of contact to ground out. Or so one might believe. If that were the case, then why does "creeping" or "spider" lightning work. This is the type of lightning that "crawls" along a cloud bank bottom. In essence what it is really doing is finding another cloud to discharge to. I personally have seen and have a photo of this happening across a distance of about 20 miles. Scary. No?
  2. Lightning is weak and most victims survive no problem. Tell that nonsensical information to actual victims that have been struck and actually survived. There can be all types of after or side effects for months after such an incident. Everything from brain damage, dizziness, skin burns and even heart failure. Think about it this way; the human body basically works off of electricity within. This is what makes the heart keep pace. So changing that pace from an external source can either be fatal, or in the case of those electric shock pads (defibrillators) that your typical EMT or surgeon may use, it could bring you back to life. Lightning doesn't care if you need defibrillation or not. It just strikes. This may cause your heart to miss a beat or two, and hence kill you. The reality is lightning is way more powerful electricity-wise than you would ever need for defibrillation. Beware. It will cause damage no matter what. 
  3. I am safe because I hear the thunder so far away. Sure, tell that to the golfer that got killed by a lightning strike under clear blue skies. This actually happened here in Tucson a few years ago. (See: Man struck by lightning on Tucson golf course dies). Yes, the golf course was totally clear, but the mountains just a few miles away had some thunderheads building. That's all it took. This is so typical during the monsoon season in Arizona. It's a very dangerous playground. But so famous for its monsoon lightning that the University of Arizona actually has one of the best known lightning research centers in the world.
  4. I know what I am doing. I have been chasing storms for years! The dumbest most stupidest thing I have ever heard too many times in my many years of chasing. I joke about how my wife holds the umbrella for me in the e-book. But all jokes aside, I actually have had to yell at my wife, my kid, my parents and fellow shooters to get there asses out of harms way. This is a serious issue. Always. I am asked so many times by people if they can go on a chase with me. I have to explain the dangers, the timing, the driving, the running... and usually that ends that conversation real quickly. It is a frickn' dangerous job period! 

So Just to be Clear, here is a List of Some Close calls I Myself have had:

For the Tucson Locals that may recognize the locations I am stating such locations so that you can see just how awesomely powerful our storms are. (As if you didn't know that already.)

  1. Corner of Speedway and Wrightstown/Harrison - while waiting at a red light, the pole diagonally across the street gets nailed. Very bright flash and loud.
  2. Behind Lowes on Speedway and Kolb overlooking the Pantano Wash - strike across the wash (maybe 100-150 ft) super loud recorded on my Tascam DR-100 while packing in the cameras. Yeah, we jumped out of our skins.
  3. The last strike from a time lapse sequence shot on Houghton Rd. using a wide angle lens. I thought perhaps that the lens manufacturer should put a warning label on the lens stating that "Objects are closer than they appear when using this lens". See the clip - the very last strike was also within 1000 ft from where I was standing with a metal tripod. 
  4. Just before arriving at Outback Steakhouse on Grant, a transformer got nailed across the street and was sparking nicely. Needless to say, no power, no steak that night. :(
These are just a few of the more memorable events. There are many. It is a challenge and dangerous as I usually have to stay in front of the storms direction. This is simply due to the fact that most lightning strikes, and I emphasize, most, not all, precede the typical storm. Note that this is not a rule, but common. As said; lightning strikes wherever the hell it wants to!

In any case, just so that you have no doubts about what I write here and that I am somewhat of an expert, have a look at my collection of footage that is all about lightning: 

So what made me decide to write about this... again? Just yesterday we had a very nasty storm pass over our little city. Damage was reported. Electricity was off in some areas, and still is at the time of this writing 24 hours later. But the real culprit was this picture posted on FaceBook by Access Tucson - a public access television facility:

"Access Tucson's channel and building are out of commission until further notice. The building was struck by lightning last night. The main breaker was destroyed. Please be advised that there will be no public hours tomorrow except for equipment check-in.

Stayed tuned!"

If you look towards the bottom of the power cabinet, you will see burn marks from when lightning fused the lines and hence caused all the damage.

Finally, the numbers!