Tuesday, October 21, 2014
   
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Experts don’t recommend getting into a lightning crouch

Questions have surfaced about the National Weather Service’s recommendations concerning the lightning crouch.

Although The Times quoted one NWS official who suggested the lightning crouch, other experts say it doesn’t provide a significant level of protection.

“We stopped recommending the crouch in 2008,” said John Jensenius, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lightning safety specialist.

Why?

Jensenius said NOAA recommendations are based on providing a significant level of safety.

“Whether you’re standing or in the crouch position, if a lightning channel approaches from directly overhead (or very nearly so), you’re very likely to be struck and either killed or injured by the lightning strike,” he said.

Promoting the crouch gives people the false impression that crouching will provide safety, he said.

Even to promote the crouch as a last resort when a person’s hair stands on end gives people the impression that they will get a warning sign or that there is something that they can do in that situation which would prevent them from being struck, Jensenius said.

“These beliefs could cause people to become apathetic and not seek a safe shelter before the lightning threat becomes significant,” he explained.

Rather than “what to do in a dangerous situation” NOAA officials recommend focusing on “what to do so you don’t get into a dangerous situation,” and, “if you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, how to get out of the dangerous situation.”

Those recommendations include:

What can you do if you can’t get to a safe place?

Jensenius said there’s no safe place outside in a thunderstorm.

If you can’t get inside a substantial building or hard-topped metal vehicle, you can’t be safe.

While there may be nothing you can do to lower your risk significantly, he said there are things you should avoid which would actually increase the risk of being struck.

They include:

Avoiding open areas and the tallest objects in the area.

Not sheltering under tall or isolated trees. In the woods, put as much distance between you and any tree.

Spreading out, if in a group, to increase the chances for survivors who could come to the aid of any victims from a lightning strike.

As for the question of “hair standing on end,” Jensenius points out that there’s nothing a person in that situation can do to keep from being struck and possibly killed.

“It’s only a matter of luck,” he said. “At that point, I would recommend that they run as fast as they can to get to a safer location.

While this may not protect against a discharge from the current charge build up, he said getting to a safer place may protect from subsequent lightning strikes.