Lightning: The "First Bolt" Problem

From McClatchy News:
 — It wasn’t even sprinkling when a lightning bolt slammed into Herasmo Palafosa as he played dominoes, chatting with friends under a mango tree one moment, a lifeless heap the next.
The bolt “was the first one that came down,” said his aunt, Maria Lara Ventura. “It was a flash, like a ray of bright sunshine.”
Four domino players fell to the ground, Lara recalled. One of them was her 34-year-old nephew, the only one who’d been sitting on a metal chair. She and others standing nearby threw water to get him to come to. But then they noticed the severity of his injuries.
“The whole top of his head was burned off. He fell dead right away,” she said.

Read more here:
The story goes on to say,
In this sugarcane region of Mexico’s coastal Jalisco state, lightning deaths abound. Indeed, annual deaths from lightning strikes in Mexico have oscillated in recent decades from 360 to around 100, far more than the 23 people who died in the United States last year, the lowest year on record. Many of the Mexican victims are rural dwellers, perishing on soccer fields, at school, tending farm plots or while riding horses.
The same story plays out across the Earth’s tropics and subtropics, where those toiling on plantations or rice paddies fall victim to the multiple lightning bolts that hit the ground every second. Scientists estimate that 6,000 to 24,000 people perish from lightning strikes each year, and 10 times that many fall injured.
It’s a humanitarian disaster that goes largely unheeded because the fatalities come in a trickle. Neither hurricanes nor tornadoes claim as many lives.

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Herasmo was killed by what meteorologists call the "first bolt" -- the first bolt from a cumulonimbus cloud -- rather than from an ongoing lightning storm that traveled to Villa Purificacion. I've seen research that estimates in the United States a disproportionate number of people are killed by first bolts and this could well be the case worldwide.

Existing lightning warning systems work well (thus the record low deaths, so far, in the U.S. this year in spite of cases of poor awareness) but we still have work to do. AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions offers excellent lighting warning services for businesses and their employees in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. However, that tragically does not cover individuals like Herasmo because the infrastructure does not exist to get warnings to individuals in rural areas.

I did not know so many people were killed worldwide. The McClatchy story is well worth your time.


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