Safety measures during lightning high season [Archives:2008/1160/Health]

May 2 2008

By: Khaled Al-Hilaly
With the coming of the rainy season in Yemen, which commences in May every year, lightning-related incidents make news headlines on television and in newspapers. More than three such incidents have been reported so far this year since the rainy season began.

“Lightning struck and killed a boy and his sister and injured their father last month in the Old City of Sana'a,” reports Col. Abdulkarim Al-Bukhaiti, director of civil defense for the capital secretariat of Sana'a. “The strike also damaged their home.” Lightning bolts are electrical discharges caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground or between the clouds themselves. Lightning strikes the earth approximately a hundred times every second.

Just because this year's rainy season was short doesn't mean lightning accidents will decrease; to the contrary, the peak season for lightning in Yemen is next month.

“The lightning season starts in the middle of May and continues to the end of July,” notes Rashid Al-Ariqi, director of the forecasting administration at the Yemen Meteorology Service, which is part of the Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority. He adds, “Lightning reaches its prime time in June.”

Rural residents in Yemen are particularly unaware of how to protect themselves from lightning and thus, are exposed to more risk.

Those governorates experiencing the most lightning throughout the year are Hajjah, Ibb, Taiz, Raymah, Dhamar, Al-Mahwit and Sana'a. “There are high mountains in these areas, which is where lightning chooses the nearest point on the ground to discharge its electricity,” Al-Ariqi explained.

Worldwide, some 2,000 people are killed and many others are injured by lightning every year. There are no available statistics in Yemen regarding the number or severity of lightning-related incidents, nor are there records concerning its victims, as the media only reports fatal strikes, not lightning injuries.

There are likely far more lightning-related accidents and fatalities than the actual number reported to authorities because victims of lightning accidents in rural areas don't seek help, doctors don't record the incidents as being related to lightning strikes and lightning-related deaths often go unreported.

However, “Dozens of incidents occur weekly,” Al-Ariqi notes.

In an effort to avoid accidents, the Yemen Meteorology Service periodically distributes forecasts and lightning warnings via television and radio channels to those governorates exposed to lightning storms. “Don't remain on house roofs or mountaintops and don't use any electrical equipment or computers during rain and lightning storms,” the YMS warning states.

Additionally, Al-Ariqi warns, “People shouldn't remain outdoors on flat ground, use umbrellas or seek shelter under tall isolated trees. If you're in a vehicle, make sure all doors are closed, windows are rolled up and don't use the car antenna.” Metal rods such as those found in umbrellas and car antennas conduct electricity and readily attract lightning.

If inside, avoid showering or washing dishes during a lightning storm. The meteorology service also advises avoiding the use of telephones, televisions or any other electronic equipment that conducts electricity.

Lightning strikes can cause cardiac arrest (when the heart unexpectedly stops beating) or severe burns, with some victims suffering a variety of lasting symptoms such as memory loss, sleep disorders and joint stiffness.Al-Ariqi urges further studies in order to determine which Yemeni areas most frequently are struck by lightning. Once identified, these areas can be provided rods and other protective measures to conduct a lightning bolt's electricity to the ground without harm.

As he explains, “A lighting rod is a common method of protection against lightning strikes because the rod allows the electrical current from the strike to flow to the ground without causing any heat damage.”