It’s thunderstorm season again. The overly cautious are telling everybody about the dangers of lightning, and the brave and clueless are spreading misinformation. Dangerous misinformation, at that.
First of all, the disclaimer: lightning is dangerous. In the United States, there are about 400 injuries and 40 deaths due to lightning every year. Those numbers were much higher in the past. They’ve declined as the country has become more urban and people spend more of their time indoors.
If you can hear thunder, then a lightning strike in your area is possible. The likelihood of a strike is another matter, but if you want to be safe and follow the NOAA guidelines: “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
I’m not nearly that cautious. After all, bee stings kill 25% more people per year in the U.S. than does lightning.
That said, if you decide to stay outside despite the NOAA’s advice, there are some things you should know. You shouldn’t be near the tallest tree or structure in the area. If you’re in the middle of an empty field, you’re at a much higher risk of being struck by lightning. Follow the NOAA’s outdoor guidelines.
Most importantly, don’t think that wearing shoes with rubber soles will help you. Sure, rubber is a good insulator, but all insulators have voltage ratings. Lightning melts thick glass insulators. Your wimpy little 1/2 rubber sole might as well not exist when it comes to a million-volt lightning strike.
And don’t think that cars can’t be struck by lightning. If you believe that the rubber tires on your car are protection against lightning, take a look at this video of a moving pickup truck being struck by lightning.
The vending area in my office building contains a snack vending machine with the screw-type dispensers, and a soda machine with eight lines. I typically walk down there around lunch time to get a drink, and sometimes I’ll get a snack.
My first choice for a drink is Coca-Cola. There are two lines of Coke (no jokes, please) in that machine, and about half the time I go to select a Coke, there isn’t any. There’s always a Coke Zero, though, and most times there’s a Dr. Pepper. I suspect the other drinks (Orange soda, Diet Dr. Pepper, and some others) are available, too.
The snack machine suffers a similar fate. Snickers bars go quick, as do the M&M’s and a few other things. I commonly see that snack machine with six or more empty lines, and the remaining selections are far down on my list of desirable snacks.
As far as I can tell, they refill these machines every two weeks. The Coca-Cola runs out in a week or less. Same with the Snickers and other popular snacks. Whoever’s operating these vending machines is losing a whole lot of potential sales. It is not true that people will select something else if their first choice is unavailable. When I want a Snicker’s bar, for example, I probably won’t settle for something else. I’ll just put my dollar back in my pocket and walk away. Cheese and peanut butter crackers are not a substitute when you’re craving a Snickers.
My dad and uncle owned a vending company back in the early ’80s. I worked there briefly between the time I left school and when I got my first programming job. They would get upset about one empty line on a vending machine. I can’t imagine what they would have done if they found one of their machines out of the most popular products for an extended period.