September 2006

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Lightning Alert

‘When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors’

By Jane Lemon Mott

When Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, he stated that he felt that the greatest benefit it had to mankind was not the saving of property and lives but the reduction in anxiety that people felt when an electrical storm approached.

Unfortunately, we have gone past that feeling of relative safety to a state where many of us fail to recognize any need for caution. According to NOAA News Online (story 2676), lightning has already killed at least 27 people in the United States this year and injured over 300.

Fourteen of those deaths have occurred since July 15. Although there is an average of 66 lightning deaths a year in the United States (tornadoes claim an average of 65 lives per year), the deaths for the second half of July 2006 are more than double the July averages of previous years.

It’s time we took lightning seriously again. For those who spend a good amount of time outdoors the risks are the greatest.

This year’s July fatalities include teenagers playing soccer, golfers, campers, and people mowing lawns on riding mowers. The fact that you are reading this paper is a strong indicator that you spend a significant amount of time out of doors.

Do you recognize the danger that comes with an electrical storm, and do you do what is necessary to stay safe?

I can honestly say that over the years I have paid little attention to the danger of lightning. The news stories of lightning-strike victims usually get little attention.

With one or two killed or injured at a time, it’s easy not to get a true perspective of the threat lightning poses, and although you may read reports of the deaths, there is very little written of those who sustain debilitating injuries from lightning. These injuries often have lifelong effects on a victim’s physical and mental well being.

Common sense should tell us about now that we need to remind ourselves that lightning is a dangerous force of nature and that we need to take action to protect ourselves when a potential electrical storm approaches. The following recommendations for lightning safety are adapted from the Web site .

Read them, remember them , pass them on to family and friends, but most important, follow them when storm clouds are headed your way!

  • Watch for developing thunderstorms: Towering cumulus clouds are often the first sign of a developing thunderstorm.
  • When to seek shelter: If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately
  • What is safe shelter? A substantial building that is enclosed; you are not safe in any building that is open to the outside such as carports, covered patios, picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, or any tent structure. A hard-top metal vehicle is also a safe shelter, but you need to avoid contact with any metal object in the vehicle.
  • The 30-30 rule: When you see lightning, count the seconds until you hear the thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, you are within striking distance. Wait at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder before leaving safe shelter.
  • Outdoor activities: Minimize the risk of being struck. Any outdoor group activity must be stopped at the first sound of thunder. Leaders of outdoor events should have a written plan that must be enforced.
  • Things to avoid indoors: Stay off corded phone, computers, and any equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity or plumbing. Buy ground-fault protectors for key equipment. Follow the 30-30 rule.
  • Helping a lightning strike victim: If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 immediately! The most common effects of a strike are cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage. Know CPR. Most victims survive a lightning strike with proper treatment.
  • Summary: Lightning is dangerous. NOAA’s advice?
  • "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.