Along with hurricanes, lightning is a severe weather threat that peaks in the summer. Lightning is a threat worldwide and year-round.
In June, the National Weather Service (NWS) held Lightning Safety Awareness Week, focusing on the dangers of this particular severe storm threat. According to the NWS, more than 400 people are injured in an average year by lightning in the United States, leading to neurological disabilities and worse. As noted on www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov, lightning kills an average of 55-60 people, coming close to the average number of people killed in the country annually by tornadoes. To date, six people in the United States have been killed by lightning in 2011.
A “bolt” of lightning can be more than five miles in length, reaching temperatures of approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It can contain 100 million electrical volts. No place outdoors is safe during a storm, so the NWS emphasizes the slogan “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.” The following NWS facts and advice will help you avoid lightning threats, and advise you what to do if someone you know is struck.
Facts and Advice
- All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous, so take thunderstorms seriously. According to NOAA, lightning kills close to 60 people per year in the United States, nearly the number of people killed by tornadoes (about 70, according to the NWS). It kills more people than hurricanes. For tornadoes, 2011 has been anything but average.
- Lightning doesn’t always strike near the heart of heavy rainstorms. In fact, lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm center. According to NOAA, many lightning deaths and injuries occur ahead of and after storms pass through an area. When a storm is forecast to hit your area, seek appropriate shelter.
- If you hear thunder, go inside. Even if the sky is blue, lightning is close enough to pose a threat. Wait until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to resume outside activity.
- Not all lightning strikes are deadly, but people struck by lightning can develop serious, lifelong neurological disabilities and face chronic pain.
- During a storm, do not use corded phones unless it is an emergency. Cordless and cell phones are acceptable to use.
- Keep away from electrical equipment and wiring during a storm; they conduct electricity. This applies to showers and baths. Avoid them during a storm.
- NOAA recommends that all people have a lightning safety plan. Those who would be outdoors for any activity should designate a safe place they can go if storms are forecast, and should leave with enough time to reach the destination. Consider postponing outdoor activities if storms are forecast.
- The best places to be to avoid lightning are fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing, according to NOAA. Partial buildings such as sheds, picnic shelters, tents or covered porches do not offer adequate protection. If buildings are not available, find a metal-roofed vehicle, and close all of the doors.
- Lightning tends to strike the taller objects in an area. If caught outside during a storm, avoid tall objects such as isolated tall trees or utility poles. Likewise, avoid objects that conduct electricity like fences, wires, and bodies of water.
- If in a group of people, spread out. According to NWS, this does not decrease the chances of a lightning strike, but it minimizes the chance of multiple casualties from a lightning strike.
If someone is struck
For more information on lightning science and safety, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.