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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... lightning bolts.


CURWOOD: Lightning kills more people in this country each year than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. More than 8,000 people in the past 50 years. That's probably because lightning is so ubiquitous. About 100 bolts hit the earth every second, 8 to 9 million every day. Most at risk: people outdoors on mountaintops or other exposed places, where the weather has shifted abruptly and there's no shelter handy. To ward off lightning, the Romans wore laurel wreaths, and the Germans kept yule logs on the fire. Across Europe they used to ring church bells to keep the bolts at bay, but after enough bell-ringers were struck dead the city of Paris made it illegal to ring bells during thunderstorms. Each year in the US a group of health care professionals holds the Lightning Strike-Electrical Shock Conference to devise better treatments and prevention strategies. This year's meeting takes place in Florida, which has the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the nation. But lightning isn't all bad. It helps create millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer every year. And some claim lightning has even cured blindness and multiple sclerosis. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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