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Unexpected rainfall in April in Karachi. Actually, totally unexpected weather not only in Karachi but in the entire country and specially in the province of Baluchistan which seems to be hard hit by these unexpected bouts of rain that devastates this less developed province causing many human fatalities and destruction of infrastructure.

This time around the rain in Baluchistan as elsewhere in the country was accompanied by strong winds, dust storms, lighting that not only brightened the sky but caused loss of life and property on the ground. The lightning was truly frightening and not only that it sounded deadly but was deadly too.

I think this was the worst lightning event in the history of the country as according to figures released, lightning and heavy rains killed at least 49 people across Pakistan in the three days of this weather onslaught. Even in Karachi lightning struck a house in the Naya Nazimabad area but fortunately there was no loss of life.

Since the early days of Pakistan Karachi has seen quite a few lightning displays but nothing like what happened recently. It were not just the flashes of lightning but the unusually loud sound which even set the alarms going in the cars parked in our residential block.

Also the shape of lightning was quite strange. Usually, it is a long bright light coming down straight from the sky but here it had weird shapes from circles to something like the bow of an arrow. Punjab bore the brunt of this lightning onslaught with 21 fatalities.

Most of the casualties were among farmers sowing wheat. I remembered an old lady the grandmother of one of my friends who would as soon there was lightning in the sky ask everyone to take shelter and immediately wear rubber slippers.

Now I understand the logic behind this move. Most fatalities by lightning occur, as the bolt’s massive electrical voltage short-circuits the heart’s natural rhythm. The wearing of slippers insulates you to some extent and might just save your life.

There are various ways you can get hit by lightning. One of the most common is a direct hit. In this strike the current moves on two surfaces: the inner surface and the outer surface. The outer surface might cause burns but the current travelling in the inner surface might damage more and cause cardiac arrest. There is also what is called a side flash.

This occurs when an object larger than you and under which you are seeking protection gets hit and the current travels to you as a secondary strike. This usually happens when someone is seeking shelter under a tree during a lightning storm. Then there is the ground current. Anyone near a lightning strike can be a potential victim. Farm house animals are most at risks in this kind of strike as the current travels through the floors of barns and stables.

Lightning can also travel long distances in wires or other metal surfaces. Metal does not attract lightning, but it provides a path for the lightning to follow this is called conduction. Most indoor lightning casualties and some outdoor casualties are due to conduction.

Whether inside or outside, anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing, or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk. This includes anything that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets and showers, corded phones, and windows and doors. In the villages it is not advisable to use wireless appliances.

Then there are “Streamers”. While not as common as the other types of lightning injuries, people caught in “streamers” are at risk of being killed or injured by lightning. Streamers develop as the downward-moving leader approaches the ground. A person could be killed or injured if caught in a streamer.

You see lightning strikes in different forms but each form is deadly and one has to take precautions to save themselves from this bolt from the blue. Lightning is such an interesting subject that one of the leading providers of hit movies and serials has just announced that it will be launching a new serial entitled “Death by Lightning”, which dramatizes the stranger-than-fiction true story of 20th US President James A. Garfield and his admirer Charles Julius Guiteau, who assassinated him. Lightning strikes in different forms and sometimes with deadly force. Let us all remain alert.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi

The writer is a well-known columnist


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