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Lightning Hazard

Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occur during the summer months when the combination of lightning and outdoor summertime activities reaches a peak. Lightning kills about 100 Americans each year - more than tornadoes - and causes about 300 injuries. People involved in activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, bicycling, golfing, jogging, walking, hiking, camping, or working out of doors all need to take the appropriate actions in a timely manner when thunderstorms approach. Those in charge of organized outdoor activities should develop and follow a plan to keep participants and spectators safe from lightning.

Lightning Safety Tips from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:

  • All thunderstorms produce lightning.
  • Get inside a building or enclosed vehicle. Many fatalities occur when warning signs are ignored.
  • If you are caught in an open area with lightning around, crouch down immediately! Put your hands on your knees, but don't lie down on the ground.
  • Do not use a telephone or electrical appliance when lightning is taking place. A nearby lightning strike can travel through phone or power lines, right into the home.
  • Never seek shelter beneath one lone tree.

Myths and facts
Myth: If it is not raining, there is no danger from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes away from heavy rainfall. It may occur as far as ten miles away from any rainfall.

Myth: Rubber soles on shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being injured by lightning.
Fact: Rubber provides no protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides some protection if you are not touching metal.

Myth: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
Fact: Lightning victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately.

Myth: Heat lightning occurs on very hot summer days and poses no threat.
Fact: what is referred to as heat lightning is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction.

Mitigation
Having a radio with fresh batteries is important in order to have up-to-date information on the formation of thunderstorms. The biggest mitigation activity is developing a plan of where to go for protection.

Preparedness
Thunderstorms are most likely to develop on warm summer days. As the sun heats the air, pockets of warmer air rise in the atmosphere. When this air reaches a certain level in the atmosphere, cumulus clouds start to form. Continued heating can cause these clouds to grow vertically upward in the atmosphere. These "towering cumulus" clouds may be one of the first indications of a developing thunderstorm.

When thunderstorms are in the forecast:

  • Monitor NOAA radio, broadcast radio, or television for current information.
  • When outdoors, select a location to move to when lightning approaches.
  • Use the 30-30 rule where visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within 6 miles of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.
  • When visibility is obstructed, equate thunder with lightning. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
  • Keep pets on a leash.

Response
If you are outside:

  • Seek shelter in a building, cave or depressed area.
  • Keep away from telephone and power lines, fences, trees and hilltops. Get off bicycles, motorcycles, and tractors.
  • If you are in a car, stop the car and stay in it. Don't stop near trees or power lines that could fall.
  • If you're caught in the open, crouch down with your feet close together and your head down (the "leap-frog" position). Don't lie flat.
  • If you feel your hair stand on end in a storm, drop into the tuck position immediately. This sensation means electric charges are already rushing up your body from the ground toward an electrically charged cloud. Minimize your contact with the ground to minimize your injury.
  • Watch for local flooding you may have to move if water begins to accumulate.

If you are inside:

  • Stay inside, away from windows, doors, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks or other electrical charge conductors.
  • Unplug TVs, radios, toasters and other electrical appliances.
  • Don't use the phone or other electrical equipment.
  • Close the blinds and shades of your window, then keep away from them.

Recovery
It's usually safe after no thunder and no lightning have been observed for thirty minutes. When it is safe to leave your protected area:

  • Check for immediate hazards, avoiding downed power lines and flooded areas.
  • Check others in the immediate area for injuries.

If a person is struck by lightning, medical care may be needed immediately to save the person's life. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning. A lightning victim often suffers severe burns in two places on the body: where the bolt entered and where it exited. Expect to find more than one injury.

If someone was injured by lightning: administer First Aid/CPR, and call 911 for additional help.