©iStockphoto.com/KathyGould Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/KathyGould
Be prepared during the next severe weather alert by following these simple tips from our safety expert.
Canada's steamy summers create a playground for unpredictable weather. Pop-up thunderstorms with hail, damaging winds and lashings of rain can appear when you least expect them. Many people regard nature's light show as a mild inconvenience, but lightning strikes in Canada kill an average of seven people per year, and another 70 people experience serious injuries. Stay safe this summer when severe weather is on the approach with these surprising tips.
Unplug appliances and minimize electricity use
According to Lewis Smith, the communications and media program coordinator at the Canada Safety Council in Ottawa, it's smart to unplug electrical devices such as televisions, computers and stereos before a thunderstorm hovers overhead. "[If your building is hit] and the electricity travels through wires in your home, it could cause a fire." If you happen to be on the other end of a plugged-in pair of stereo headphones or a gaming console, you could be zapped with a painful shock or experience burns.
Removing plugs from the wall can also prevent an unexpected charge from frying your electronics. Smith says surge protectors connected to computers and TVs can offer a false sense of security, so unplug your equipment to guarantee its safety.
Stay away from windows
Avoid the urge to lean against a window to get a closer look at a storm. Powerful lightning strikes could create a severe vibration capable of shattering windows, sending dangerous glass shards toward you. Metal window frames can conduct electricity, so keep your distance.
Don't talk on the phone
Lightning strikes can also send electricity along phone wires. According to the National Weather Service in the United States, most of the people who are injured by lightning inside their homes were talking on the phone. To avoid a shock or serious burn, wait to chat on your landline until after the storm subsides.
It's also important to skip mobile phone calls if you're outdoors during a thunderstorm. "The phone acts like a lightning rod," says Smith. The phone itself won't attract the lightning, but if you are hit by a strike, the device's metal could heat up and burn your skin.
Avoid using an umbrella
Did you know that using an umbrella during a thunderstorm is like carrying a lightning rod above your head? Don't become an easy target for a lightning bolt. Wait 30 minutes after the last thunderclap before heading outside with an open umbrella. "People don't see using an umbrella during a storm as something they should worry about, but it seriously injures about 70 people a year in Canada," says Smith.
Steer clear of metal
Metal downspouts, railings, fences, garden sheds and manhole covers don't attract lightning, but they can all conduct electricity, and they discharge the voltage through the ground when hit by a bolt. Keep a safe distance from these objects if you're caught outdoors in a storm.
Personal items made of metal, such as cellphones, MP3 players, coins, jewellery and body piercings, can cause contact burns if you're struck by lightning or the travelling discharge, so remain indoors to stay safe.
Stay clear of water, even indoors
Think twice before bathing or showering, or hand-washing your dishes during a thunderstorm. Electricity from a lightning strike can travel through your home's metal pipes, and the water could conduct the current—giving you a life-threatening shock. "During thunderstorms, stay away from all water—lakes, puddles, sinks, bathtubs, showers—to avoid a potential negative outcome," says Smith.
Washing machines and dryers pose a potential risk too. Not only do they connect to both the electrical wiring and plumbing systems, but they're also attached to metal vents on the outside of your home.
Don't rely on rubber tires to keep you safe
A car's tires can absorb much of the impact of a lightning strike, but unfortunately, the same principle doesn't work for bicycles, motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles. "The rubber isn't heavy enough to protect you," says Smith. Save your cycling or ATV riding until after the storm moves on.
Remember that lightening and thunder may be closer than you think
Lightning can be a menace even when a storm is several kilometres away. If you hear thunder in the distance, use the 30/30 rule: If you can count 30 seconds or less between hearing thunder and seeing lightning, you're at risk—so head inside! Wait at least 30 minutes after the final boom of thunder before returning outdoors.
For more information visit the Canada Safety Council.