By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | January 23, 2013
There is an old saying that lightning never strikes twice in the same spot but I can assure you it does, if the conditions are right. I have a bit of history with lightning bolts. During the summer I turned thirteen, I had walked next door with my cousin Larry and grandmother Mur to visit for a spell. The sky clouded over and it started to rain; you could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Mur asked Larry and me to run back to the house and close her windows. We raced each other the short distance and hit the screen door at the same time out of breath. Laughing, we agreed Larry would close the bedroom and kitchen windows and I’d close the ones in the living room and front bedroom.
The windows were iron casement that had been salvaged from an old church that had burnt and been torn down. There was a lever that locked or unlocked the window and a separate hand-crank you turned to open or close the window. I cranked the left side of the living room window and then started to crank the right window closed. In an instant the room seemed to light up and I felt a crushing sensation then I blacked out. That was the last thing I remembered for a few minutes until I heard my cousin yelling, “Jackie! Wake up! Are you dead? Are you dead?”
Larry told me I flew from the window to the entrance of the living room, about twelve feet. My fingers had temporary tingling but luckily there were no bruises and no lasting injuries. My story was only one chapter in my grandmother’s many stories about her house and lightning. She told everyone the kitchen was off limits when it stormed saying you could “watch the lightning bounce from the windows, to the sink, to the appliances to the other windows— a real light show.” I’ve seen the display myself many times.
The experience left me with a healthy respect for the sheer power of lightning; a respect that I have passed down to my children. When it rains or there is bad weather expected we completely unplug sensitive and expensive electronics from surge protectors. Several years ago I had asked Francisca, who was about ten-years-old at the time, to unplug my computer for me while I was busy cooking. The storm was horrible with several bolts hitting so close that we were worried we were struck. Later on after the storm was over I reached to plug in my computer and found the third prong still in the outlet and then finished pushing it in. I turned it on and held my breath, “Oh no, the blue screen of death!”
That was it, my computer was dead. But it was plugged into a surge protector and should have been saved right? Not so, a surge protector is meant to handle little unexpected increases of power like a wave lapping the shoreline when a bolt of lightning is more like a tsunami. Think about this, the most powerful surge protector I found online can handle 4350 joules which is pretty good. Okay, a good bolt of lightning can easily carry with it over 5 billion joules. Do you really think that much energy is going to stop for a little $30 surge protector? Another good way to compare the difference is that the sun is a bit over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s very hot but the average lightning bolt can carry a little more than 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit— that’s over five times hotter than the sun!
Since living in our current home here in New Jersey we have been hit hard twice even with our precautions and including surge protectors. The first time we lost my computer, a light switch, a clock radio, a microwave and a thermostat. It sounded like someone ran through our house ringing chimes that day. The second hit was to the largest tree on our property that blew tree bark into the pool. From there the lightning travelled under our pool and hit the power source for the pool pump and blew a two and a half foot hole in the ground that rained construction sand all over the pool. Lastly, the lightning entered our house and knocked light wiring loose in our basement and almost started a fire. The fire department arrived quickly and told me we were lucky— also that I probably prevented the fire by shutting down power to the house when I saw smoke.
Yes, we have a healthy respect for the power of a lightning bolt at my house.
Surge protectors do serve a purpose and they can prevent some damage to sensitive electronics from sudden small increases in power. Prices range from about $20 to $130 and handle from 340 to 4350 joules. To be on the safe side I would recommend unplugging equipment and appliances before storms hit. I always say, “If you can hear thunder in the distance, it can still hit you.” If you are going to be away from your home for more than a couple of days— unplug.
When your children are afraid of thunder and lightning there are some things you can do to help them cope:
- Educate them about thunder and lightning.
- Take appropriate steps to keep them safe.
- Acknowledge their fear and anxiety.
- Create a ‘special’ time during a storm to comfort them.
- Give them imagination imagery (God’s Angels Bowling).
My children grew up with a little fear but a great love for the time we spent reading to each other nestled among pillows and pets. When the thunder rumbled in the distance, even before the light show began, there were smiles and snacks to meet the fear.
How do you and your family prepare for storms? Do you have special storm traditions you would like to share with other parents? We would love to hear from you!
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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