- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2000

The thought of Benjamin Franklin holding his high-flying kite aloft during lightning strikes may seem exciting to junior scientists, but his quest for understanding electrical phenomena could have been fatal.
A National Weather Service publication, "Storm Data," attributes 3,239 deaths and 9,818 injuries to lightning strikes between 1959 and 1994. The National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) also estimates between $4 billion and $5 billion in annual damage and losses in the United States can be attributed to these bolts from the sky.
With these statistics in mind, the NLSI has posted a Web site filled with advice for those caught in thunderstorms and attempting to avoid encounters with 20,000 amps of deadly current.

National Lightning Safety Institute

Site address: www.lightningsafety.com

Creator:

The NLSI is based in Louisville, Ky., and has spent the past five years educating the public about one of Mother Nature's most dangerous weather conditions.

Creator quotable:

"The Web site and institute are based on the premise that we can provide objective information for people on lightning safety issues. In a word, lightning safety means being aware of the atmospheric threat and moving from a high-risk location to a low-risk situation," says Richard Kithill, chief executive officer and president of the NLSI.

Word from the Webwise:

The NLSI cyber-stop provides a sparse, no-nonsense approach to the hazards of lightning. Looking more like an on-line monograph than a dynamic Web site, its pages present plenty of text and little else.
I suggest quickly jumping to the table of contents, found at the bottom of the opening page, for an all-encompassing look at the six areas featuring the site's offerings.
Mr. Kithill has assembled an advisory team ranging in expertise from atmospheric science to neurology to meteorology. This group has put together safety topics about interaction with lightning that include information on swimming pools, boating, athletic events, advances in lightning rods and camping, as well as technical data such as over-voltage analysis, an illustration of fortress protection and guidelines for providing surge protection.
Visitors are introduced to numerous ways to prepare for storms, such as the "Flash and Bang" theory, which calculates the rough distance a person is from a strike and how fast the storm is moving. Basically, for each five seconds between a lightning flash and the accompanying thunder, lightning is one mile away.
The most interesting area on the site has to be the "Information and Resources" section, which explores the myths of lightning, celebrates Benjamin Franklin, looks at the different types of strikes and presents high school and middle school lesson plans, courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Finally, one of the most important ideas I came away from the site with is the NLSI slogan "If you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it" advice that basically says to steer clear of storms.

Ease of use:

The site has enormous potential, considering it contains tons of thorough information on lightning safety. I would have preferred, however, that Mr. Kithill spent less time hawking the NLSI'S expensive products (a 12-minute lightning safety video for only $79) and more time dazzling its potential viewers.
Besides the spotty Web design, which cropped up throughout the site, I would have loved to have seen some color photos of lightning in action or even some short, QuickTime presentations.

Family activity:

Since lightning is just one giant charge of static electricity, visitors learn the old trick of rubbing their leather-soled shoes across a carpet and touching a sibling to produce jolting results.

Don't miss:

Those looking to feed their paranoia or learn the sobering realities about this atmospheric condition that's three times hotter than the sun's surface, can find a list of lightning accidents and incidents from the National Weather Service's "It Can't Happen to Me" library. Encounters range from two tree trimmers getting thrown 4 feet after a strike to a woman being hit by lightning reaching out of her van to an automated teller machine.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Students looking for information for a school report will love the easy-to-access information, but children will find nothing shocking enough to hang around.
Family fun factor: 30 percent

Information grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message to joseph@twtmail.com.

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