By Yanet Díaz
HAVANA TIMES – A few weeks ago, five people (two adults and three children) died from receiving an electric shock, during the afternoon, on a beach in Santa Cruz del Norte, province of Mayabeque. In Cuba it is very common that storms are characterized by great electrical activity, especially in the summer.
These storms originate from a type of clouds called cumulonimbus, which produce heavy rains, intense winds and, sometimes, hail. On the Island they are more frequent in the months of June, July and August, and tend to occur mainly from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
Lightning, which is nothing more than discharges of electricity, can occur from the cloud to the surface, although they also occur within a cloud or from one cloud to another. On the other hand, thunder is the characteristic sound that accompanies the lightning, which is produced because electricity passes through the atmosphere at such a great speed that it heats the air and expands it very fast, and that is what that generates the sound.
Electrical discharges can contain a voltage thousands of times higher than the current commonly found in homes, so, if they impact a person, they can cause severe damage. Lightning effects can be caused by a direct impact on a person, by spreading objects that have been impacted, or by the electromagnetic pulse originated in a nearby area.
In general, the mortality from lightning strikes during thunderstorms is about 10%, which implies that the majority are likely to survive, however, impacted people can suffer damage to the circulatory system, lungs, as well as in the nervous system. They may also suffer other effects or some type of long-term disability.
In our country, the number of deaths due to the impact of electric shocks during storms averages 65 per year, which makes it the first cause of death nationally by natural phenomena.. It is a very alarming figure.
A National Geographic article argues that in developing countries, factors such as poor infrastructure, the farm economy, highly dependent on labor, and the tropical climate play a fundamental role in the high rates of deaths and accidents related to electric shocks.
If we add that many times the population does not take the risk of electric shocks seriously enough, the results only get worse.
That’s why it is highly important that people (including visitors) know the main measures they can take in the presence of a thunderstorm. Here is a small list of actions that can be performed:
• If possible, shelter inside some home or building or vehicle with a strong top.
• Avoid being in open areas, in high places, on beaches, etc.
• Avoid shelter under isolated and tall trees
• If you are in a forest, it is better to get as far away from trees as possible
• If you are in the middle of a group of people, it is better to disperse a little to reduce the likelihood that the impact affects everyone
“Climatología de las tormentas eléctricas determinadas a partir del código de estado de tiempo pasado”. Yosvany Garcia-Santos, Lourdes Álvarez-Escudero, Revista Cubana de Meteorología. Vol. 24, No.2, pp. 201-215, 2018
“Comportamiento de las muertes por fulguración ocurridas en Cuba durante el periodo 1987–2012”. Nathalí Valderá Figueredo, Evelio Alberto García Valdés. Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328365232_Comportamiento_de_las_muertes_por_fulguracion_ocurridas_en_Cuba_durante_el_periodo_1987-2012
Periodico Escambray: http://www.escambray.cu/2019/rayos-primera-causa-de-muerte-en-cuba-por-fenomenos-naturales/
National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131102-lightning-deaths-developing-countries-storms/
National Weather Service: https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-odds