Alberta lightning storms can be spectacular, but behind the beauty lurks an inherent danger. According to the Canada Safety Council, lightning flashes occur about every three seconds in the summer, with Canadian Underwriter tallying the total number of hits at somewhere between 2 and 2.5 million a year. Strikes seriously injure an average of 100 to 150 and kill 10 people annually.
Global warming is said to be causing an uptick in the number of lightning storms. Each summer in Alberta there is an average of 400,000 strikes. Last summer in southern Alberta there was a particularly high rate, says the CBC, with summer storms seeming to happen pretty much daily in Calgary, which had a soppy, soggy July. By Sept. 9 of 2016 there were more than 575,000 hits recorded. Lightning strikes are also a leading cause of forest fires, instigating about half of all the remote blazes in western Canada.
What is Lightning?
Lightning occurs when positive and negative particles in a cloud become hypercharged because of unusually high movement. In effect, lightning is a form of static electricity. Once a significant charge has built up the cloud tries to neutralize itself. A pathway is formed between the ground and the cloud for the release of energy, friction causes a spark and BAM. Lightning strikes at an incredible temperature of about 20,000 degrees Celsius.
Because light travels much faster than sound, you will see lightning before you hear it. That old adage to count the seconds between a flash and thunder actually works. An average estimate is that every four seconds between a strike and a thunder clap amounts to about one kilometre of distance between you and the lightning’s source.
Protect Yourself and Your Home or Business from Lightning
Lightning will hit the highest point it can in any given area. If you are outside when a storm starts:
- Try to get into a building or a vehicle. These are the safest places to be.
- Remove all metal objects from your pockets and place them far away. Metal is an excellent conductor and can intensify a hit.
- Also put your golf clubs, fishing rods and umbrellas far away.
- If you are unable to get inside, move to the centre of an open field and get low to the ground. It is recommended you crouch and put your hand on your knees, which will help dissipate the surge if you are hit. Don’t lie flat on the ground, as this just makes you a larger target. Minimum contact with the ground is best.
- Never stand underneath a tree, tower, power line or anything tall. The shock wave from lightning striking these structures can be just as dangerous as a direct strike to you.
- Stay away from bodies of water, as these are the most likely to offer up a pathway for clouds to discharge their extra energy.
When lightning hits a building or home it can spark a structure fire, fry electric wiring and appliances and damage framing and foundations. If you are indoors during a storm:
- Close all windows and external doors.
- Unplug or turn off all unnecessary electrical equipment.
- Since metal pipes transfer electricity, stay away from faucets, tubs and sinks.
Lightning does tend to strike more often in urban areas, however it can be particularly dangerous for those in rural areas as it can take longer for fire response to get to a more isolated property. To find out if lightning is active in your area, the Government of Canada’s Canadian Lightning Danger Map predicts areas at risk of being struck by in the next ten minutes. The Weather Network also has a webpage showing lightning strikes across North America.
Home and Business Lightning Protection
Lightning is a named peril in all Alberta home insurance policies, meaning that you will be covered for damage due to its occurrence. But to avoid damage in the first place, it is recommended that you install a high-end surge protector in your electrical box to stop the spread of the charge where it starts.
Business lightning protection can include grounding and bonding, surge arrestors and shielded internal wiring.
It’s Also Tornado Season
There have already been a few tornado sightings in Alberta this summer, and there’s more than likely to be more. As Calgary and Edmonton are among the windiest major Canadian cities, be sure to take precautions against extreme gales and tornadoes.
Alberta Home and Business Insurance: Trust Lane’s Insurance for Affordable Coverage and Outstanding Customer Service
Lane’s Insurance is here to help Alberta home and business owners protect their property and stay safe during the sometimes-wild weather of the summer season. We represent you, not the insurance companies, and work with numerous carriers to meet your insurance needs while maintaining extremely competitive pricing. Contact our Calgary, Edmonton, Banff or Alberta offices.