at any rate, i googled lightning strikes this morning and found all the answers to my questions and then some.
-you have a 1:5000 chance of getting struck by lightning during your lifetime
-9 out of 10 people survive a lightning strike
-a lightning bolt strikes the earth a hundred times a second, heating the air around it 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun
-lightning strikes kill more people each year than tornadoes or hurricanes (about 2000 people worldwide each year versus 150 people killed by avalanches each year)
-cars are safe not because they aren't struck but because the tires conduct the charge to the ground
-lightning bolts start as negatively charged particles that extend towards the earth and are met by positively charged particles called streamers extending up from the earth; when the two oppositely charged particles meet, an electric current is formed that makes the flash (for a really neat demo, check out this national geographic interactive site (yes, i am aware that i am a geek).
some safety tips from national geographic (what can i say, i'm a pediatrician ;):
- If outside, seek refuge in a car or grounded building when lightning or thunder begins.
- If inside, avoid taking baths, or showers, and washing dishes. Also avoid using landline phones, televisions, and other appliances that conduct electricity.
- Stay inside for 30 minutes after you last see lightning or hear thunder. People have been struck by lightning from storms centered as far as 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.
- If caught outside away from a building or car, stay clear of water bodies and tall objects like trees. Find a low spot or depression and crouch down as low as possible—but don’t lie down on the ground. Lightning can move in and along the ground surface, and many victims are struck not by bolts but by this current.