Opinion

OPINION: Beware—This column could literally kill you

When thunder roars ... Go indoors! - Environment Canada
When thunder roars ... Go indoors!
— image credit: Environment Canada

With no apparent sense of humour, the press release issued by Environment Canada declared the danger: “When thunder roars, GO INDOORS!”

(All-caps theirs.)

The message? June 9 to 15 was “Lightning Safety Week” here in Canada. Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.

Yes, there is a week in our country designated to fret over the danger of electrostatic discharge from above.

To be clear, I know lightning can be dangerous. (I know someone who was indirectly affected when a tree he was standing next to was struck by lightning and, so the story goes, the electricity shot through the root system and he was blown off the ground. He was OK.)

But I’m struck by the question of whether or not this really  warrants a week of national concern.

My immediate response upon seeing the press release was to wonder when Haystack Needle Safety Week was going to be.

Or Be Careful Of Mooching Friends If You Win the Lottery Week.

Let’s lay it out here: Being struck by lightning happens so rarely it is LITERALLY (all-caps mine) a metaphor for something really, really, really unlikely.

As in, “I won the lottery?! Wow! That’s like being struck by lightning.”

OK, you might not say that, but you get my point.

The press release directs one to the Canadian Lightning Danger Map, an online, interactive feature that points out where lightning is currently a threat.

At present writing, I’d avoid the Prairies mid-way between Saskatoon and Calgary, and a chunk of land in whatever state is south of Saskatchewan.

“Let’s get inside, I can hear thunder!” I imagine a character in a government-sponsored TV ad saying.

“Hang on honey, I’ve got an app for that. Let’s first see if there is lightning danger near us, according to the ‘When thunder roars. . . Go indoors!’” website.

Given how fast a lightning strike is, I’m left wondering how much time we really have to consult the map.

“The Canadian Lightning Danger Map (CLDM) represents areas at greatest risk of being struck by lightning in the next 10 minutes,” it says on the site.

OK, that’s good.

“Times are expressed in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).”

Um, what’s that?

“The interval between maps is 10 minutes. Please re-fresh your browser to ensure you have the latest map.”

Got that? So not only are you dealing with a natural phenomenon that happens so fast that, again, it’s literally a metaphor, and you see the effect before you hear the sound it makes—it is LITERALLY faster than the speed of sound!—you also need to refresh your browser to make sure it hasn’t been eight or nine minutes since the last posting of dangerous spots.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safety, but I just wonder how worthwhile this website and campaign really is.

From helicopter parents at the park in suburbia, to so-called “chicken buses” in Guatemala, I’ve seen a fair spectrum of how safety issues are managed around the world.

In Canada, where we may have a front-page news story when a child is mauled by the family dog. In Greece, it’s not even newsworthy when actual packs of feral dogs terrorize people in public parks.

In Canada, we warn people not to stand too near the tracks when a train arrives. In India, they are stacked three-deep on top of cattle cars to get around.

In Canada, we aren’t allowed to get near the animals on a chicken farm. In Guatemala, as the above anecdote implies, people pile in and on to buses heading every which way with whatever they can carry, including poultry.

But don’t listen to me. Playing outside in a warm thundertorm may seem like a fun summertime  activity. Be careful, though, you may just win the lottery . . . if you know what I mean.

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