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Can someone really be ‘blown out of their shoes’ by lightning and survive?

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By Chris Scott
Chief Meteorologist
@ChrisScottWx
Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 1:04 PM

An Atlanta man is lucky to be alive after a lightning strike literally blew him out of his shoes. But can someone really be ‘blown out of their shoes’ by lightning and survive?

It smells a bit fishy. Someone gets struck by lightning, has their shoes blown completely off (smoldering in fact) and then has the wits to record the aftermath with their phone?

Yes. It can happen.

And it appears that it did happen to an Atlanta man on Saturday.

The video is making international headlines. It shows a dazed but otherwise coherent man in the seconds following a lightning strike – with his smoldering footwear a short distance away to boot.

This may be the first time such an event has been captured on video, but not the first time this seemingly unbelievable occurrence has been documented. Most people can survive a lightning strike because much of the current ‘flashes over’ the skin instead of entering the body. We’ve all heard the expression ‘the path of least resistance’ and this is what the current in a lightning strike does. It will take the easiest path to get to the ground where it can meet its opposite charge.


SEE ALSO: Lightning injures golfers in southern Ontario


It turns out that the current can travel easier along the skin than it can within the body. This ‘flash over’ of the lightning current is the key to how someone can have their shoes blown off. The split second heating of any moisture in the boot (from sweat for example) causes water vapour to rapidly expand, producing enough force to tear the footware off and propel it some distance away.

In fact, there have been cases of lightning strike victims having their clothes completely blown off – again from the rapid heating and expansion of water vapour between the skin and clothing.

Fortunately, the man in Atlanta appeared to weather the strike reasonably well, and not every lightning strike victim is this fortunate.

Most fatalities from lightning are the result of pulmonary arrest where the victim stops breathing due to the large electric charge that travels through the nervous system.

Lighting strike victims DO NOT retain a charge following the strike, and it is crucial to administer CPR immediately to anyone who isn’t breathing after being struck.

The best way to mitigate lightning risk is to be weather aware and remember the phrase – When thunder roars, go indoors.

If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to get struck by lightning.

References:

Mary Ann Cooper, MD 

https://www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury/

Ron Holle

http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/users/holle/public_html/

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