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Springtime and lightning; not a good mix

by Minden Press-Herald

You’re out on the lake on a beautiful spring day. The fish are biting and all is well. You scarcely notice the bank of dark clouds on the horizon as you put another fish in the boat.

Then you hear the distance rumble of thunder and notice the clouds seem darker and a bit closer. Surely you have time to make another cast or two before heading in because the bite is going so well today. Before you know it, a bolt of lightning splits the sky followed by the crash of thunder a few seconds later. It’s time to head in, if it’s not too late.

I had such an experience once years ago on Lake Claiborne. A friend and I were into a big bream bed and as soon as a cricket hit the water, the cork went under; I can’t remember when the bite was that steady.

The storm arrived in lightning – literally – fashion and by the time we stowed our poles and got ready to head across the lake to the landing, it was too late. Lightning, thunder, slanted sheets of hard rain and wind was upon us and we would have surely been swamped had we headed across the open lake, which by now had waves four feet high.

We did the best thing under the circumstances; we headed for a nearby boat house, slipped the boat in a stall and rode out a tremendous thunder storm. In an hour, the storm had passed and we were able to safely cross the lake to the ramp.

This memory was brought to life again recently when I read an article, “Lightning Emergencies”, written by Mississippi physician and outdoorsman, Dr. Bobby Dale.

Dale described a turkey hunt he was on when a storm hit with little warning. “Suddenly,” he wrote, “I was truly fearful for my life… only has to observe a mature, lightning-struck oak splintered into hundreds of shards the size of 2X4 lumber to realize the power and danger it brings.”

In the article, Dale pointed out some of the characteristics of lightning outdoorsmen and women need to know because spring storms are often accompanied by thunder and lightening.
Thunder is basically a sonic boom created when the energy from the electrical discharge heats the surrounding air to approximately 40,000 degrees causing its sudden expansion and creating the sound explosion,” Dale wrote. “Lightning bolts may carry from 100 million to a billion volts of energy.”

If you have outings planned during spring when thunder storms are more likely to occur, Dale has some tips and suggestions that might save your life.

“Watch for signs of approaching storms. Sudden changes in wind, temperature, darkening skies and the rumble of thunder or distant lightning flashes should alert anyone to expect an approaching storm.

“A great rule-of-thumb to calculate the distance from you to a lightning strike is the count the seconds between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder accompanying it. Sound travels 1100 feet per second, electricity 186,000 miles per second; there are 5280 feet in a mile. Five seconds from flash to sound indicates the lightning was approximately a mile away from you,” Dale wrote.

“Thankfully, not many people suffer lightning strikes in their lifetimes. By using sound judgment and preparing for bad weather on your outings,” he concludes, “you will further reduce your chance of becoming – pardon the pun – toast. Be safe.”

Glynn Harris Outdoor column is sponsored by D.C. Pawn in Minden

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