Watch out for lightning when outdoors, weatherman warns

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PETALING JAYA: Malaysians may be used to heavy downpours, but the weather department says it’s better to be careful when heading out as lightning can strike at any time throughout the year.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) said although thunderstorms were a common occurrence, each one was dangerous as they all produced lightning.

Most lightning deaths and injuries occurred when people were caught outdoors, it added, warning that air near a lightning strike was heated to above 20,000 degrees Celsius – hotter than the surface of the sun.

Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 16km away from any rainfall.

According to the MetMalaysia website, thunderstorms can occur throughout the year but are most likely to happen in the inter-monsoon periods between April-May and October-November.

Over land, thunderstorms frequently develop in the afternoon and evening. Over sea, thunderstorms were more frequent at night, the department said.

According to a report by The Star, Malaysia is one of the countries with the most lightning strikes in the world.

It quoted Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Centre for Electro­magnetic and Lightning Protection Research (CELP) director Dr Mohd Zainal Abidin Ab Kadir as saying Malaysia experienced more than one million strikes a year.

Zainal told the daily that from 2008 until March 14, CELP data showed that lightning had killed 112 people and injured 156.

He advised Malaysians to check the weather forecast before going for outdoor activities, adding that people should go indoors if they heard thunder, the report said.

Meanwhile, MetMalaysia said those caught outdoors during a thunderstorm should seek shelter in a low spot away from trees, fences and poles.

“If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible, and minimise your contact with the ground,” it said.

On March 12, a couple were believed to have died after being struck by lightning in Puchong Jaya. Police said Yee Boon Koo, 59, and his wife, Ooi Lee Chen, 57, had likely been jogging at the time.

They are believed to have died instantly.