KSW Writers Reference: Lightning strikes
We decided to share our research with you guys, since there are plenty of you who probably need it just as much as we do. The research will be varied between the two of us, and there’s no telling what the heck you guys will get, but I’m sure someone out there can use it!
First up on our list is lightning strikes, whether you have a character who was nailed by Zeus (His lightning bolts, I mean, of course. What were you thinking?) or you’re actually writing the big guy up in the clouds.
Here’s the best description I can give of how lightning is formed (so you might be better off reading the sources if you need this). No one’s exactly sure how the clouds get their electrical charge, but it’s thought that it might be from the collision of water particles as they rise. The little impacts generate the charge. The upper portion of the cloud has a positive charge while the lower part is negative. Then the air between the cloud and the ground has to be ionized, which means that the electrical currents can move fluidly between the two, and that’s nature’s attempt at neutralizing the charges.
(You really ought to just read the website for that part)
Some general information:
- Lightning strikes from the ground, not the sky, so the victim will feel the static before they actually get hit.
- Only 3-5% of lightning injuries are from a direct strike. Most of the time another object nearby is what’s hit, such as a tree or the house, and the injuries result from that. Maybe the victim is talking on the land-line phone (those still exist?) or they’re close to the TV when it blows out.
- Lightning strikes are one of the top three causes of death from a natural phenomenon, and the second largest cause when associated with storms. An average of 62 deaths are reported per year, mostly in May-September with June, July and August being the peak season.
- There is no standardized reporting system for lightning strikes, which means that average of 62 I just mentioned is probably low.
- Cars do provide protection, but not because of the rubber tires. It’s because of the metal surrounding the person, which disperses all of the energy, and provided the person isn’t in direct contact with the metal of the car or the radio, they’re okay.
- Approximately 90% of lightning strikes only involve one patient.
- Because there’s so much energy in a strike, it will rapidly heat the air in that area. But since it’s just a quick flash, the air will cool back down just as fast, which results in a little mini explosion of sorts (and this is also what creates thunder!)
- Lightning can strike 10-12 miles ahead of the storm, which means it could be a beautiful sunny day.
And the effects of being stricken by lightning:
- Rare: Internal burns, muscle destruction + Myoglobinuria (If you’ve watched House M.D. and you remember how his urine became brown because the muscles in his leg were dying? Yeah, that’s what this is.)
- More likely: cardiac/respiratory arrest, vascular damage (in Charlaine Harris’ Harper Connelly series, the main character is a survivor of a lightning strike and is left with some wicked spider veins on her leg), and neurological damage. Neurological injuries usually affect all three parts of the nervous system (central, autonomic, and peripheral). Injuries also occur from collapsing after the strike, muscle contractions, and trauma to the tissues in ears.
Lightning strike injuries are categorized by whether or not they are mild, moderate, or severe, with severe being the rarest:
- Mild: Loss of consciousness, amnesia, tingling, and numerous other smaller-scale symptoms. These do not leave any superficial burns or scars.
- Moderate: Seizures, respiratory or cardiac arrest (which will spontaneously resolve itself). Burns are more likely, and can appear initially or after a period of time. Complications afterward include issues with sleeping, tingling, the pins-and-needles affect (probably in the stricken area of the body), and personality issues such as irritability.
- Severe: Immediate CPR is needed, and the longer the victim goes without, the less likely they are to live. Unless someone is there to start CPR right away, the victim probably won’t survive, and if they do, brain/neurological deficit can occur because of the lack of oxygen to their brain.
- Long-term complications will also vary depending on the severity of the strike and the individual case, but can include: chronic pain, short-term memory issues, affected personality, slower at processing and understanding new information, depression, seizures, nausea, confusion, sleep disorders, headaches, amnesia, aphasia (which can span from forgetting words to remembering how to speak, write, or read), and a much longer list of complicated, really long medical jargon. You can even develop cataracts up to two years after being struck.
- If you’ve never seen the scars a lightning strike can leave, go google that right now.
How Lightning Works