A video clip showing a group of tourists traveling in the desert with their hair standing on end, sparked heated discussion on Chinese social media, dividing experts on how to respond to the situation and whether running away was the best option.
The video went viral on Tuesday showing a group of tourists traveling in the desert in Turpan, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, suddenly experiencing their hair standing on end, like hedgehogs. According to the tourists, their hair returned to normal status after they drove 3 kilometers down the road.
Many netizens said the phenomenon is a sign of an approaching storm and suggested that the group should have run away as soon as possible.
However, Feng Minxue, director from the lightning prevention and disaster reduction institution in East China’s Jiangsu Province noted that running away is not the best measure to adopt in such a circumstance, China Youth Daily reported.
According to Feng, if an individual’s hair is dry and there is a little too much static electricity, there is still time to leave. However, if the hair has already stood on, people should not run. Running can form step voltage which is more dangerous.
The correct approach is to lower one’s body height. If they can’t leave the mountain top in time, they should quickly crouch down on the spot, bring their feet as close together as possible, and use their hands to shield their heads, avoiding touching the ground, Feng said.
Wu Xueke, associate professor from the College of Atmospheric Sciences, Lanzhou University, thinks that the clouds above the head of the tourists charged with electricity caused the situation. The electric field distortion above the head becomes very serious, which can induce static electricity in the hair. In the most extreme cases, the person might be struck by lightning.
According to Wu, if people encounter such a situation outdoors, they should immediately find a relatively low place, crouch down with their feet close together, and avoid walking or running. If there are vehicles parked nearby, it’s also advisable to quickly take shelter inside a vehicle.
A representative from the meteorological disaster prevention technology center of the local meteorological bureau in Xinjiang told Jiupai News that despite the phenomenon occurring in a desert and there are clouds in the sky, the situation might not be due to encountering thunderstorm but was actually caused by static electricity instead.
The center has never received reports of such a phenomenon in the past and thunderstorms are relatively rare in desert areas. As long as appropriate protective measures are taken and seeking shelter in a timely manner, there should be no problem.