June 19-25 is Lightning Safety Week. Summer is the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena— lightning. But don’t be fooled, lightning strikes year round. In the United States, an average of 55 people are killed each year by lightning. To date, there have been 5 deaths in 2011 (as of press time). Hundreds of people are permanently injured each year by these giant sparks.
People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms including memory loss, attention deficit, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.
Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous. In the United States, there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. Each of those is a potential killer. While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States (flash floods are the deadliest).
Understanding the dangers of lightning is important so that you can get to safety when thunderstorms threaten. Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the ground. In the initial stages of development, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground; however, when the differences in charges become too great, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning.
As lightning passes through the air, it heats the air quickly. This causes the air to expand rapidly and creates the sound wave that we hear as thunder.
There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Just remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Have a lightning safety plan, and cancel or postpone activities early if thunderstorms are expected.
A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Examples include a home, school, church, hotel, office building, or shopping center etc. Once inside, stay away from showers, sinks, bath tubs, and electronic equipment such as stoves, radios, corded telephones, and computers.
Unsafe buildings include car ports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach pavilions, golf shelters, tents of any kind, baseball dugouts, sheds, and greenhouses.
A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm. Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, or any open cab vehicle.
For more information, please visit: www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov