Thursday, January 16, 2014

Struck by lightning - São Paulo

Several seconds before death...and the lightning strike. Photo credit: Folha de São Paulo

Two nights ago we had dinner with friends at their apartment in Jardins. It is a beautiful place with a great view over Ibirapuera Park. At around 9 pm, one of those fantastically scary lightning storms hit and we watched the sky light up, crack open, and sizzle for more than an hour. My kids and their kids were alternately hiding under sofas and watching open-mouthed as the lightning hit seemingly everywhere. A woman on the São Paulo coast was killed on Sunday from a lightning strikes. It's not child's play here.

I am no fan of lightning storms. During my youngest years, we lived in a neighborhood in New York state that was at the top of a hill seemingly in the path of every single thunderstorm. In theory, we were. Storm King Mountain on the Hudson River Valley would direct them all our way, or so it seemed. Just about every house in the neighborhood was struck at least once. I still hate thunder so much that I am awake every time I hear even a distant rumble. 

Turns out I moved to the wrong place to escape lightning. Brazil is a bolt magnet. Every hour more than 5,700 lightning bolts strike in Brazil. More than 50 million bolts in a year and more 1,600 deaths from lightning strikes from 2000-2012 (source here).  Parsing the data further, you see that 82% of the deaths were men, with the majority between 20 and 39 years old. And summer is the big "winner" with 45% of the lightning strikes. 

This article claims that during summertime there is a humidity "band" that comes from the Amazon and sits over the São Paulo beaches. Reminds me of how in Chicago we blame Canada for the cold fronts. Those Amazonians, such kidders. You guys are going to burn down our forests and steal our water? Fine, have some lightning. São Paulo registered 267 deaths out of the 1,600--more than double the next state (Minas Gerais, 125). Apparently lightning likes our humidity. 

Which country wins the lightning bolt war? Not us. A small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo is number 1. Venezuela number 2. We are number 3. I'd say let's get ourselves a bronze metal but we all know what that would attract.

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