how to explain what happened in Courrières, where a man died of lightning

how to explain what happened in Courrières, where a man died of lightning
how to explain what happened in Courrières, where a man died of lightning

While training football in Courrières, Jordan died after being struck by lightning. A brutal and sudden tragedy, impossible to predict during the formation of very localized storms.

“The city of Courrières is in mourning,” wrote Mayor Christophe Pilch this Friday, May 24, the day after the death of Jordan, a thirty-year-old who was struck by lightning during football training in the city’s Gabriel-Péri stadium.

Thursday evening, “a brutal and sudden stormy episode” hit the town near Lens and lightning began to strike, indicates the Pas-de-Calais prefecture in a press release. A flash of lightning then struck the amateur footballer who was among the other players.

Another man complained of chest pain while 12 other people suffered minor injuries, such as burns or headaches.

This tragedy occurred completely unexpectedly. In total, 278 lightning discharges were recorded on Thursday, including 38 within a two-kilometer radius around the city center and therefore very locally. This storm did not seem to present any particular severity, with only a yellow alert issued in the Pas-de-Calais department.

A phenomenon impossible to predict

Despite technical and technological progress in meteorology, it remains impossible to predict that lightning will strike a particular municipality, let alone a specific location.

“This is the reason why at the moment and for almost 15 days, three-quarters of the territory are placed on yellow alert for storms which are locally violent”, specifies Marc Hay, weather and climate journalist at BFMTV.

When lightning is created inside a cumulonimbus, it can then strike in several places. “We also often see images where lightning strikes trees more frequently, for example. Obviously, it completely destroys the tree,” notes Patrick Marlière, forecaster and meteorologist.

Some cities are equipped with lightning rods to protect buildings from the effects of lightning and attract the lightning so that it hits a specific point of impact.

A propagation of the electric charge

In this context, being struck by lightning remains an exceptional although unusual phenomenon. In France, an average of 100 people are struck by lightning per year, of which around ten cases are fatal.

Just as lightning can strike a tree, a tent, an infrastructure, it can strike a person directly. During the impact, which lasts a microsecond, the victim receives up to 100 million volts at a temperature of around 30,000°C.

But lightning can also hit the ground, and through propagation, affect a person nearby. A man who is located within a perimeter of 20 to 30 meters around the impact of lightning will in turn be affected by the electrical charge.

This explains why in Courrières, several people were injured and received burns, although they were not directly struck by the deadly lightning. According to forecaster Patrick Marlière, another factor could have caused Jordan’s death: the completely soaked pitch at the Gabriel-Péri stadium.

“If lightning struck nearby, you can imagine what an electric shock it must have been for that person next to the lightning that struck the ground.”

“And people nearby were affected too, but to a lesser extent,” he confirms.

Tips to protect yourself

It was therefore an unpredictable phenomenon which occurred this Thursday in Courrières, resulting in the death of a man who was, by a combination of circumstances, near the point of impact of the lightning.

Today, the only way to protect yourself against lightning strikes, direct or not, is to protect yourself by taking shelter when a storm arrives. The French fire brigade advises in particular, initially, to move away from metal structures which tend to attract lightning. It is also not recommended to take shelter under a tree, an umbrella, a telephone box or near a stream or on high points.

Emergency services call to find a closed interior: a building, a closed and stationary car, or store. Without shelter nearby, the best thing is to squat down, tuck your head into your shoulders, and place your feet on an insulating material like an oilskin or a backpack.

Thunderstorms are still forecast this Friday, with a yellow alert still in effect in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m.

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