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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy August 19, 2013 07:32 AM
I love thunderstorms--at least I love them when I can watch them from a safe place. Because even though I love watching lightning, I know it can be dangerous.
Lightning is, after all, electricity. As it passes through the air it heats it up, making the air literally explode. The noise of that explosion is thunder (because light travels faster than sound, we see the lightning before we hear the under). It's not actually angels bowling; thunder is the sound lightning makes.
Check your thunderstorm safety smarts. Are these statements true or false?
If it's not raining, you are far away enough from the storm to be safe.
False. If you can hear the thunder, you are close enough to encounter the lightning.
You should stay inside until 30 minutes after the last thunder you hear.
True. After 30 minutes, you should be safe.
It's not safe to be in a car, because it's made of metal.
False. Actually, the metal of the car is what makes it safe; if lightning hits it, the electricity will go around the car, not inside it. It's best not to touch anything metal inside the car. Don't stay on the road, though--pull over and park somewhere safe. Put on your hazard lights if you are at the side of the road.
You shouldn't bathe, shower or swim indoors during a thunderstorm.
This is true. Because metal and water conduct electricity, theoretically if lightning hits the building the electricity could go through the pipes and into the water and give you a shock.
If you are outside during a thunderstorm and can't get inside, take shelter under a tree.
False. Tall things are bad, because lightning is more likely to hit them. Metal things like bleachers are bad, too, as is standing water. Crouching low on the ground is the best way to avoid a lightning strike.
Here's a great Bill Nye the Science Guy episode (great show--there are lots of episodes on YouTube) about storms that you can watch with your kids:
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About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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