Sometimes it’s fun to be scared. And few things can frighten Canadians — and provide fuel for conversation — more than the weather.
Who can help but be awestruck by the sight of a summer thunderstorm over the lake? Flashes of distant lightning, the low rumbles that mark the approaching storm, and finally the quick cloudburst, sharp cracks and violent booms as the storm rolls overhead.
Often, the quick summer storm comes with violent, damaging winds and sometimes even a downpour of hail.
Thunderstorms are created from moisture, unstable air and lift — from weather fronts, breezes off the lake or mountains. They can occur all year and at any hour of the day, although most arrive in July and August, during late afternoon and early evening.
The WeatherKids website estimates that there are about 1,800 thunderstorms around the world every day. In Canada, Windsor and the western basin of Lake Erie are the thunderstorm capital because, says Environment Canada, that’s where most of the hot, humid air funnels up from the Gulf of Mexico, creating just the sort of conditions thunderstorms love.
About 251 lightning flashes per 100 square kilometres occur annually in Windsor, 162 in London and 200 in Toronto. Windsor gets an average 33 thunderstorms a year, London gets 30 and Toronto 27.
Lightning occurs when small pieces of frozen raindrops collide within a thundercloud, creating an electric charge. Eventually, the whole cloud is filled with electrical charges, with positive charges at the top and negative charges at the bottom. Then a positive charge builds up on the ground below the cloud.
Lightning can be deadly
Lightning strikes when positive and negative reach out to one another. The lightning actually creates a “hole” in the atmosphere. When this hole collapses, the sound it makes is what we call thunder. And because light travels faster than sound, we see the lightning before we hear the thunder.
Lightning is dangerous. About 10 people in Canada die as a result of being struck by lightning every year, and another 125 are injured.
If you feel your skin tingling, or the hairs stand up on your skin, lightning could be very near. The best defence is to get down on your hands and knees and keep your head tucked in. Don’t lie flat — that just gives lightning a sporting chance.
You can figure out how far away a thunderstorm is by measuring the time between when you see the lightning and when you hear the thunder. For every second between the two, count 300 metres. If it’s less than 30 seconds between the two, the storm is within 10 kilometres of you. If you count five seconds, the storm is about 1½ kilometres away.
The best place to be when a thunderstorm strikes is inside — inside a house or a car, that is. Contrary to folklore, standing in rubber boots offers no defence. That thin layer of rubber standing between you and the ground isn’t going to make a bit of difference to a bolt of lightning.
One place you should definitely NOT be during a thunderstorm is on the water, be it in a boat or swimming. Lightning can, and often does strike water and when it does, it can travel quite a distance from its point of impact. And stay away from golf courses and out of the woods, too. Trees are great conductors of lightning. You don’t want to be anywhere around one.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com – July 2010