Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Almighty Flash

Last week, a rare incident took place at the mouth of the Singapore River.

A lightning bolt struck the Merlion statue in its head, sending fragments of its manes flying to the nearby One Fullerton and Singapore River Cruise counter. Orange sparks flew at the strike and it was as if the Merlion was enraged and blew its top, literally.

In the usual efficient style of the Singapore civil service, the Singapore Tourism Board cleared the 'crime scene' the very afternoon. Barricades were put up, the debris from the statue's head was cleared and a contractor was engaged to assess and repair the damage.

For now, the 'injured' Merlion is being nursed. However, that does not stop curious tourists and concerned Singaporeans inching near the scene to check out the beloved icon.

This 36-year old Singapore tourism icon meant a lot to the people here. Immediately, it became the talk of the town. Among other things, discussion was flying on whether a lightning conductor should have been installed on the statue.

Well, another case of clever hindsight talk.

Now I begin to picture a lightning antenna atop the Merlion statue. I see nothing but a funny sight. Wouldn't that turn the Merlion into a unicorn? Oh wait, perhaps not. The Merlion is half fish half lion, so, it might just turn it into a Narwhal (an Arctic marine fish with a tusk)?

Err, actually, I am not sure what the proposed installation will turn the Merlion into. All I know is that, I do not wish to see any metal rod sticking out of the statue and seriously alter it aesthetically. However, having a repeat of the incident would bring more tongues wagging on the failure to learn from a lesson.

"So, how?", as most Singaporeans would have asked.

A writer wrote to the press and suggested that the lightning-struck statue could have been left as it is. He reckoned that by preserving the evidence of this rare incident, the Merlion would attract even more curiosity and that Singapore could start to collect entrance fee for visitors who wish to gawk at the 'act of God'.

Nice try!

Lightning is a natural phenomenon where a huge amount of electricity is discharged in the atmosphere.

Every year, there are 16 million such storms world wide. In fact, lightning occurs at a frequency of 44 times a second giving a total of 1.4 billion flashes a year. 20% of these flashes hits the ground.

70% of lightning takes place in the tropics. To those who are astraphobic (lightning phobia), I am sorry to inform that Singapore has one of the highest rates of lightning activity in the world. On an average, we get to hear thunder on 171 days annually. Phew! That's close to half the time!

Looking at what the National Environment Agency (NEA) shared at its website, we should be heading for more strikes in the coming April and May.

Lightning strikes are more often than you think and they are potentially fatal. I have been told from young that we are not to take cover under a tree during a thunderstorm. Other than that common advice, I believe many of us are quite naive about lightning safety. While no place is absolutely safe during a thunderstorm, some places are safer than others.

Generally, large enclosed structures are safer than smaller or open structures. While indoor, avoid using the telephone, taking a shower, washing your hands, doing dishes or having contact with conductive surfaces. Enclosed metal vehicles, with the windows rolled up, also provide good shelter from lightning.

The NEA has some tips on "
Lightning DO's and DON'Ts". Read for your own safety.

Lightnings are really formidable. The air within a lightning strike can reach 20,000 deg C and lightning can heat its path five times hotter than the surface of the sun. Once it hits the ground, each strike can generate easily 100 million volts of electricity or more. The longer the bolt, the higher is the voltage!

Some say that the Merlion incident in this economic downturn is a sign of omen. I prefer to see it as a trigger of awareness on the mightiness of this natural occurrence, especially when we are getting it almost half the time in Singapore.

Whatever it is, I am glad that no one was injured in this incident and I wish the Merlion a speedy recovery.

See you soon, fishy lion!

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