||July/August 2000 issue||
Struck by lightning
Primal and powerful, lightning is one of nature's gravest hazards. A new national detection
system pinpoints almost every flash.
by Dane Lanken
Christine Fram was struck by lightning
on August 6, 1997, while inside a building, which is a relatively
safe place, in Vancouver, where there is relatively little lightning.
In that split second, she joined the 60 or so Canadians who are
struck by lightning each year. She was not among the six or seven
who die but was among those whose lives were, as she says, "rewritten"
by the experience.
Then 28 and an apprentice auto mechanic, Fram was standing near
a metal workbench in the Grandview Tire and Auto shop on Commercial
Drive. Lightning struck the power lines outside, surged through
to an electrical box on the wall inside, travelled down to the
bench, then jumped across a metre-wide gap to her left hand.
She heard a bang and saw a blue flash. A man near her saw the
bolt. A blue glow filled the room.
Fram felt pain in her left hand. There were holes in her rubber
gloveS, and the rubber sole of her left shoe was melted. Her
muscles twitched. Her heart beat irregularly. She was stunned
and confused, having weird thought processes, feeling as if she
wasn't breathing. Pain spread over her left side, then numbness.
She couldn't walk. Her boss drove her to the hospital.
Stupendous bolts of electricity
come hurtling from the sky roughly five million times a day worldwide.
Considering that each thunderstorm — there are 2,000 in progress
at any one time — produces thousands of flashes, it is remarkable
that more people aren't injured or killed. Detection systems
across Canada and around the world are now helping reduce that
risk by sensing almost every bolt, logging its location, direction,
timing and frequency, and thus improving our ability to forecast
severe storms. We have by no means tamed this force of nature,
and we still have much to learn about its impact on humans, but
we do know how much damage a bolt can cause and how to protect