How to avoid being struck by lightning

More than 145,000 lightning strikes were recorded across France in the month of May

France has been battered by more than 145,000 lightning strikes since May 1, according to official figures.

More than 33,800 of those strikes came on Monday alone. And, while there is a brief respite over the next day or so for most of the country, thunderstorms are set to return across the south and west by the end of the weekend.

As well as a record number of lightning strikes, heavy rain caused localised flash flooding yesterday, with up to 60mm of rain falling in one or two hours, while hail devastated crops. About 1,000 hectares of vineyards in the Champagne region were totally destroyed in one hailstorm on Wednesday.

Every year in France, between 100 and 200 people are struck by lightning and about 20 die as a result of their injuries. Lightning strikes cause burns, and sometimes fatal cardiovascular and neurological disturbances. If you see a person hit by lightning call the emergency services.

The Association Protection Foudre advises checking the weather forecast as the best way to avoid being caught in a storm while outside. You can always change your plans if thunderstorms are forecast.

If you are outside when a storm hits, the association said that, if possible, you should get inside as quickly as possible. Even then, avoid using corded telephones or electrical equipment and stay away from windows.

To protect any electrical goods, you could fit have lightning protection installed at a cost of between €300 and €500. Be sure to purchase one that complies with the NF/EN 61643-11 standard. Otherwise unplug electric devices to protect them.

If you cannot reach your house, a car is a safe place to ride out a storm. Even if it is struck, the metal body of the vehicle acts as a Faraday Cage, conducting electricity around the metal body of the car to the ground. Driving may be dangerous, however, due to the risk of flash floods.

But, if you are caught out in the open, and away from your vehicle, move away from any metal structures; and take shelter under a stone building if possible - a public lavatory will do. Unless it has a lightning conductor, however, do not lean on it.

Do not play golf, go fishing, fly a kite, or use an umbrella during a thunderstorm. Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is inadvisable. It is considered safe, however, to use a mobile phone.

If there is no shelter, crouch down on the ground to make yourself as small a target as possible. But if you are in a group, do not huddle together. Keep a gap of at least three metres between each person as lightning can jump from one person to another if it does strike.

Do not seek shelter under trees, where you are 50 times more likely to be struck.

If you are hiking in the mountains, avoid standing on ridges which are more likely to be struck. You can shelter under a ledge or towards the back of a small caves.

If possible, move away from water. Being near a body of water increases the risk of lightning strikes, especially if are paddling at the water's edge. If you are swimming, try to get out of the water as quickly as possible.

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