Struck by lightning !

Dossier ~ Wednesday 8th September 2010
The Broken Ear (1937) - Page 27

If you find yourself standing alone in a storm : beware ! On 4 August 2010, a young man was struck by lightning on the beach in Ostend, Belgium. Police estimate that he was hit by up to a million volts of electricity ! The victim was alone : all his companions had run for shelter.

Did you know ?

The phenomenon of lightning has still not adequately been explained. We know that the longer the lightning bolt, the higher the electric charge. From a few hundred volts to a few million, thunderstorms are unpredictable and unquenchable sources of immense power. It is also common knowledge that one can judge the distance of lightning strikes and storms by counting the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder: if the delay between the two is short, then the lightning has struck close by; if the delay is longer, then the strike has happened further away. Planet Earth is struck by lightning around a hundred times every second. Somewhere in the world, there is always a storm raging.

What happened on the beach ?

An event was organized to take place on the beach in Ostend, Belgium, by the local windsurfing club. Suddenly, the weather changed. The sky filled up with heavy clouds, which progressively darkened. Attendees ran for shelter under a covered walkway along the beach, but one young man did not have enough time to escape. All of a sudden he was struck by lightning. The victim was rushed to hospital in a serious condition. The lesson to be learned from this terrible event is that when there is a thunderstorm, you should never stay alone in the middle of an open space like a beach. But that is not all: a small group of people in the middle of a beach or standing on high ground are exposed to serious risk.

How to escape lightning ?

In the USA, lightning is responsible for more fatal disasters than flooding, earthquakes or landslides. No one is fully safe from lightning, even when sheltering in a house. It is not rare for property that has been struck by lightning to catch fire. It is also a myth that 'lightning never strikes twice' : the Empire State Building in New York is struck on average twenty-three times per year. During one storm, the towering building was hit eight times in one minute ! Yet the greatest dangers are posed to isolated people in open spaces. Such a space might be a country road, but also an empty street. Or underneath a tree : this is probably the best way to get struck by lightning ! Apparently lightning is always looking for something that juts out above everything else. It was through observing this principle that American Benjamin Franklin (1706  -  1790) invented the lightning conductor. This device is simply a rod that sticks out on top of a building. Made of metal, the conductor allows lightning to be channelled to the earth through a metal cable, where its electric charge can be dissipated.

Is it possible to survive being struck by lightning ?

Yes ! But not always in one piece, so to speak. If the electric charge is powerful then it can cause a heart attack or damage vital functions. Lightning can also cause burns all over the body and sometimes inside the body. Clothing can also catch fire. While these are certainly terrifying prospects, it should be remembered that human beings have a single chance in 700,000 of being struck, according to official statistics.

Did you know ?

In our part of the world some of the most frequent victims of lightning are cats. The reason for this surprising fact is that these furry domestic animals forget that they have a tail. When cats feel threatened, they tend to point their tails in the air and flick them from side to side. The end result is an unwitting mobile lightning conductor !

The Broken Ear page 27
The Calculus Affair page 03
The Calculus Affair page 03
Album cover - The Seven Crystal Balls
Engraving from the nineteenth century portraying the phenomenon of ball lightning
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets page 113

Tintin and thunderstorms

Readers of Tintin know that the little reporter is no stranger to the phenomena of lightning. While our hero and his dog Snowy have never quite been caught by a bolt of lightning, they have come pretty close to being hit. Lightning is responsible for an aeroplane accident from which Tintin escapes by the skin of his teeth (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets  -  page 113). The famous scene in The Seven Crystal Balls remains seared on readers' memories : all the more so as it is depicted on the front cover. But there are other examples, including the storm in The Broken Ear and the thunderstorm at the beginning of The Calculus Affair, from which a lightning strike shoots down the telephone line, blasting Captain Haddock into one of Marlinspike Hall's crystal chandeliers. In the end, however, the fiercest storms must be Captain Haddock's angry outbursts ! Find out more on Tintin TV !

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