Q: How can we have a severe thunderstorm warning without the thunderstorm? On Nov. 17, we had such a warning, but there was just a lot of wind and some rain with no thunder or lightning.
A: A lot of people will think a thunderstorm is severe if it is loud or has a lot of rainfall, though neither is criteria for a thunderstorm to be severe. A thunderstorm is classified as severe if it has winds greater than 58 mph, hail 1 inch in diameter or larger, or if it has a tornado. In the case of this event, there was a cold front that brought a line of showers and gusts of wind that exceeded 60 mph in places, all without any lightning. This was the same front that brought a major tornado and severe weather outbreak to the Midwest, though we were just too far away from the main energy of the system to get the instability to bring thunder. The front did mix down strong winds from higher in the sky, and that did cause severe damage in parts of the region.
Q: How can a person survive a lighting strike?
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A: Actually, the mortality rate of lightning strikes ranges from 10 to 30 percent. This means that most people who are struck by lightning survive, especially if there is someone nearby to revive them or administer first aid. Close to 80 percent of the victims do receive severe injuries. Often, the electricity flows around the outside of the body, but the passage of some electricity through the body can cause damage to nerves and muscles, some of which can be permanent. The resistance of the electricity through your body (often your skin) also can cause burns, but because the lightning is so quick, the tissue damage from this is not as much as you would think. The main cause of burns will be from hot spots where the electricity will flow more like metal that is in contact with the skin. Some of these burns can be life-threatening. The biggest threat from a nearby or direct strike is that the electricity is enough to stop your heart. While a jolt of electricity often can start a stopped heart, the other way around can happen, too. But if someone is there to give CPR and resuscitate the person, the chance for survival is high, which is why in our country, we tend to run into the 90 percent survival rate.
Q: What is Indian summer and where did the phrase come from?
A: The term Indian summer has been traced back to at least 1778, but there isn’t a documented date of origin. It stands for a stretch of warm and dry weather after a killing frost. We don’t always have an Indian summer. Some years we just don’t have a period of warmth after autumn’s chill arrives, while other years there can be a couple of Indian summers in a single autumn. The name comes from the way American Indians availed themselves of the nice weather to increase their food supplies for the upcoming winter. In Europe, a similar weather pattern is known as Old Wives’ summer. I don’t why that term came about.