Damaging effects of lightning in Saskatchewan

Watch above: Recent lightning strikes in the province have caused wildfires in the north and in some cases, knocked power out. Wendy Winiewski finds out how the experts are trying to stay ahead of the strikes to avoid the blackouts.

SASKATOON – The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment continues battling wildfires, thousands of hectares are ablaze, including those resulting from severe weather on June 6, 2015. There were 39 active wildfires in the province Thursday; 19 are greater than 100 hectares in size.

Environment Canada meteorologist Terri Lang tracks active weather, including lightning strikes.

“You can see how many there were in northern Saskatchewan so again, that’s lighting more fires,” she explained, referencing a map littered with colourful dots which indicate lightning strikes.

“The stronger the lightning strike, the more sensors see it,” explained Lang. “They’ll detect it and they use triangulation to figure out exactly where it is.”

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This information is useful for insurance companies in determining the cause of damage during a claim.

Over 80 sensors placed every 300-400 miles across the country give Environment Canada the ability to pinpoint strikes.

READ MORE: 5 severe weather myths debunked

Along with fires, lightning strikes often cause power outages.

“It just totally destroys everything,” said SaskPower’s Operations and Maintenance Manager Jamie Soanes. “Like the pole will be totally missing and it’ll just be splinters of wood for hundreds of meters throughout the farmer’s field.”

SaskPower has 1.25-million power poles in Saskatchewan. Knowing where lightning strikes helps workers locate the fault according to Soanes. “If you’ve got miles of line, that’s a lot of driving to patrol that line.”

Within city limits, the most common cause of a power outage is the public mistakenly coming into contact with a power line.

Environment Canada has a live, predictive map on its website highlighting areas at greatest risk of being struck within the next 10 minutes. Using the predictive model, SaskPower is able to send crews to a location before an outage even occurs as a proactive measure.

Beyond wildfires and infrastructure damage, lightning is also deadly.

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“The number one thing we always say is, ‘when thunder roars, go indoors’,” said Lang who explained two-thirds of injuries happen before or after a storm, indicating people don’t take shelter soon enough, and don’t remain sheltered long enough.

During summer, lightning strikes every three seconds in Canada. It kills up to 10 Canadians each year and seriously injures 160 people.

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