Friday, September 2, 2011

Lightning Strikes

Image credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-14745576.

Check out this photo of a lightning strike against a vivid backdrop of the iconic Eiffel Tower, while the Paris landmark is illuminated in vibrant blue lights. Amateur photographer Bertrand Kulik captured the shot which will appear in an exhibition titled "Lumieres celestes, lumieres des hommes", in Issy L'eveque, Burgundy. It was taken 21:02 GMT, July 28, 2008 during a storm in the French capital.

When I saw this photo, I was suddenly reminded of an August 27, 2011 article I read in the New Straits Times that screamed that Kuala Lumpur is known as Asia’s lightning capital and that the country records the second highest number of strikes in the world! Thus far, “lightning strike” deaths count more than 50 casualties since 2008.

I did a wee bit more research into this phenomenon. The Jakarta Globe (August 23, 2011) indicated that Kuala Lumpur is ranked 5th in the world in terms of lightning density. And it even called attention to the National Lightning Safety Institute of the United States citing Malaysia’s capital city as having 48.3 lightning strikes hitting the ground for every square kilometer of real estate. Supposedly, Malaysia’s most lightning prone areas are in Subang, Bayan Lepas and Kluang – all are said to have up to 180 to 200 thunderstorm days a year. Compare this with Florida, the US state with the most lightning strikes, having only 90 to 110 thunderstorm days a year!

In a June 22, 2004 posting, National Geographic News (Webpage http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0522_030522_lightning.html) cited the US National Weather Service as saying that seventy-three people die from lightning strikes each year. If there is any consolation at all, we can take comfort from the statement underlined by the same report that “injury and fatality rates do not exactly correlate with where the most strikes occur. Rather, lightning tends to strike people in places where there are people to strike”. It gives the example that Colorado is 24th in lightning flash density, but is ranked 10th for lightning casualty rates. The reason for the discrepancy is that a lot of Coloradoans participate in outdoor activities like hiking and camping in the exposed, lightning-prone high country.

Maybe so, but the fact remains that more people are killed by lightning in Florida than in all other US states on average. This same authoritative source quoted that from 1959 to 2003, lightning killed 3,696 people in the United States. Of those, 425 were in Florida, which works out to 9.4 casualties per year on average (i.e. 425 divided by 45 years). As for Malaysia, the average is a much higher 14.3 (i.e. 50 divided by 3.5). So I am concluding that in KL, chances are fairly good that I can be burnt to a crisp - all because of a lightning strike!

No comments: