When nature strikes

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Malaysia has the third highest lightning density in the world.

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Many may not be aware that Malaysia ranks third in the world for lightning density.  The most recent case was in September when a 15-year-old boy from Kuala Terengganu died and three others were injured when lightning struck them while they were in a goat shed. Based on a scholarly report for Optical Transient Detector Lightning by Dr Huge J. Christian in 2003, Malaysia has 48.3 flashes/km2/yr lightning. The country with the highest lightning density in the world is Rwanda at a place called Kamembe which has 82.7 flashes/km2/ year. This is followed by three locations in the Republic of Congo – Boende, Lusambo, Kananga – with 66.3, 52.1 and 50.3 flashes/km2/ year respectively. One of the main reasons these countries are at the top of the list is because they are on the equator.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) revealed that the inter-monsoon periods between April to May and October has the most lightning occurrences. Lightning is more frequent between June and September during the south-west monsoon. There are fewer cases of lightning from December to March during the north-east monsoon.

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Types of lightning and what to do

There are basically four types of lightning. The most dangerous is the cloud-to-ground lightning. It can kill humans, animals and damage property. The second type is the inter-cloud lightning which is lightning from one cloud to another and it does not hit anything on the ground. Intra-cloud lightning is the third type of lightning where the lightning takes place within the same cloud. Then there is the cloud-to-the-sky lightning where one sees the lightning flash from the clouds.

According to MetMalaysia, clouds are formed due to the heating of the air surface. In urban areas such as the Klang Valley, which includes Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur and Subang Jaya, there are more concrete buildings, hence the convection activities are stronger. This causes lightning during a thunderstorm. On the safety aspect, lightning expert Hartono Zainal Abidin said simple shelters such as huts in parks may not be installed with lightning arrestors. However, a simple lighting protector system could protect those who seek shelter there. He said in many cases, the copper light arrestors were stolen from the building rooftops because of its resale value. “A simple lightning arrestor system for a gazebo would cost less than RM2,000 and it can help save lives. “The cheaper way is to use the normal galvanised wire. It is less attractive than copper,” he said. However, these galvanised wires may erode within five years depending on the environment. He also advised the public not to take shelter under trees when there was lightning.

On the safety aspect, lightning expert Hartono Zainal Abidin said simple shelters such as huts in parks may not be installed with lightning arrestors. However, a simple lighting protector system could protect those who seek shelter there. He said in many cases, the copper light arrestors were stolen from the building rooftops because of its resale value. “A simple lightning arrestor system for a gazebo would cost less than RM2,000 and it can help save lives. “The cheaper way is to use the normal galvanised wire. It is less attractive than copper,” he said. However, these galvanised wires may erode within five years depending on the environment.

He also advised the public not to take shelter under trees when there was lightning. Lightning strikes the highest point and in most cases it would be a tree in the field or park. Hartono said staying in the car would be a better option in case lightning strikes.

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Changes in climate pattern

MetMalaysia revealed that in January last year, peninsular Malaysia experienced exceptionally cooler weather than usual with Kuala Krai, Kelantan having extremely low temperature of 18.5ºC, 19.0ºC, and 17.2ºC respectively on Jan 19, 21 and 22 as a result of low cloud coverage and colder wind from Siberia and Central China. February 2014 also experienced cooler and drier weather than normal. The lightning count in February 2014 was exceptionally low.

The water level at Sungai Selangor Dam and Klang Gate Dam, which supplies water to Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, dropped below the 50% level. When the levels dipped further to 30% and 40%, the Selangor government implemented water rationing in March until end of April. Some meteorological stations, such as at Langkawi and Butterworth, recorded more than 30 days without rainfall.

Singapore also experienced a record dry spell in February 2014 with it being the driest month there since 1869. It recorded the most windy month in the last 30 years with average wind speed of 13.3km/hr and set a new record for the lowest average daily relative humidity of 74.5%. The lower-than-normal air temperature, strong wind and dry atmosphere contributed to extremely low lightning count.

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Lightning survivor

The Sportswoman of the Year award winner in 1965 and 1966, Datuk M. Rajamani, was struck by lightning while training for the Mexico Olympics at the Kuala Lumpur Police Depot at Gurney Road on March 21, 1968. She was a track and field athlete. Rajamani shared with StarMetro her memories of the incident. She said during one of her trainings, she saw her fellow athlete who was running in front of her being struck by lightning, and died on the spot.

At that moment, Rajamani did not know that lightning had also struck her. She regained consciousness only after five days. “I did not even know why I was hospitalised and no one told me. I thought it was because of a throat infection,” she said. However, she learnt about her lightning attack from a girl who showed her a newspaper article about the incident. “I still had no memory of the incident. I also had no memory of my boyfriend, who is now my husband. “Somebody told me that when they asked if I remembered my boyfriend, my reply was that I thought I had seen him before,” said Rajamani. Now, the 72-year-old spends her time with religious activities.

Source: The Star Online, By Sheila Sri Priya. Thursday, 17 December 2015