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Violent storms in France: How to avoid being struck by lightning

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Violent storms in France: How to avoid being struck by lightning
Photo: marcgg/Flickr
09:56 CEST+02:00
Getting hit by lightning might seem like a one in a million chance, but unfortunately the freak phenomenon causes 10 to 20 deaths each year in France. Here's some advice on how to avoid lightning strikes.

Much of France is enduring some pretty extreme weather right now. 

Violent storms have lashed  the country for days and set to continue. Indeed May 2018 has seen the biggest number of lightning strikes make contact with the ground in France in just one month since the year 2000s.

In all there has been 147,000 lightning strikes so far this month, including 33, 841 on Tuesday night. That's double the average for May. Each strike is loaded with an electric charge of around a million volts, or the equivalent of 100 million light bulbs.

Every year in France, lightning strikes 100 to 200 people, with 10 to 20 deaths annually, according to the French lightning protection association (Association Protection Foudre  - APF).

The association notes that victims who escape death can suffer serious burns and psychological shock.

Two years ago, ten children and one adult were struck by lightning in a Paris park, with six of them seriously hurt.

The risk of getting hit goes up with the temperature, so it's especially important to be vigilant now that warmer weather has arrived in France.

Here's some advice on the best ways to stay safe in a lightning storm. 

Check the weather report

It might not sound like incredible advice, but paying attention to the weather forecast is the best way to avoid getting caught in a dangerous storm. If lightning is forecasted, you might need to change your plans and ditch the picnic on the park.

On Wednesday some 39 departments were laced on storm alert. Check which areas are affected HERE.

Seek shelter inside

The number one advice in case of an electrical storm is to get inside a house. While inside, the APF says to avoid using corded phones or electrical equipment, don’t wash your hands or take a shower, stay away from windows, and do not lie on any concrete floors until the storm is over. 

The importance of heading inside at the first opportunity was seen in July 2013, when a German man was killed when sitting on a terrace in a Corsican village. Electricity was conducted by a metal ramp and struck the man, who could not be saved by medics.

Photo: Thanasis Papathanasiou/Flickr

Stay away from water and open spaces

Experts say to stay away from water (a conductor of electricity) and open spaces, such as beaches, in the event of a storm.

If you’re caught in an open area and can’t find shelter, crouch down in a ball-like position (do not lie down) to get yourself low to the ground while also touching the ground as little as possible.

In July 2013 a beachgoer was killed at a Riviera resort after being struck by lightning. 

Steer clear of trees and other tall objects

The APF stresses the importance of staying away from trees. In fact, tall objects in general attract lightning and should be avoided. The taller the object, the likelier it is to be hit by lightning. 

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being in the middle of the forest in a thunderstorm, the best course of action is to get yourself as far as possible from the trunks and avoid low-hanging branches.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling, and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Downpours and hail storms, not to mention the lightning also make being outdoors risky during a storm.

Lightning illuminating the cathedral in Strasbourg, July 2015. Photo: AFP

Get in your car

Although it might seem counterintuitive because they’re made of metal, cars are considered safe places to be in lightning storms, according to the wikiHow website. 

If struck by lightning, the electricity will conduct around the body of the car to the ground, the website says.

But be aware that driving in a storm is ill advised due to the risk of flash floods.

Don’t cluster in groups

If you’re in a group of people, spread out until you’re at least three metres away from anyone else to avoid an electrical current traveling between group members.

Put down the umbrella

Getting a little wet is far preferable to getting fried by lightning. Flying kites and carrying other objects that could act as a conductor of electricity (golf clubs, bicycles, etc) are also bad ideas. Your cell phone, on the other hand, is too small to attract lightning.

So next time you’re caught in a lightning storm, think of these tips and definitely don’t plan on a game of golf or a trip up the Eiffel Tower.

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