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Introduction to Lightning Safety

I'm meteorologist John Jensenius with the National Weather Service. I'm here to give you basic information on lightning and lightning safety. In U.S. each year, there are about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. While lightning can be fascinating to watch, it is extremely dangerous. Each one of the 25 million flashes is a potential killer. During the last 30 years, lightning has killed an average of 73 people per year in the U.S. This is more than the 68 that are killed by tornadoes or the average of 16 killed by hurricanes. Because lightning only claims one or two victims at a time, and because it does not cause the mass destruction left in the wake of hurricanes or tornadoes, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive storm-related killers. Lightning also injures 300 people a year; however, undocumented injuries caused by lightning are likely much higher.

While many people think they are aware of the dangers of lightning, the vast majority are not. Lack of understanding with regard to the dangers of lightning continues to be a significant problem in the U.S. Many people do not act to protect their lives, their property and the lives of others in a timely manner simply because they do not understand all the dangers associated with thunderstorms and lightning. This lack of knowledge can also lead to very tragic consequences.

Education and awareness are key to reducing the number of people struck by lightning. People need to become aware of what behavior puts them a greater risk of being stuck by lightning and know what they can do to reduce that risk. Adults in charge of outdoor activities and events, particularly those that involve children, should have and follow a specific lightning safety plan to minimize danger to participants and spectators.

The greatest number of lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occurs during summer months when both lightning and outdoor activities reach their peaks. During the summer, people take advantage of the warm weather to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities. Unfortunately, those activities put them in greater risk of being struck.

While nearly all people take some protective action during the most dangerous part of storms, many leave themselves vulnerable as thunderstorms approach, depart or are near by. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the main area of the thunderstorm. That's about the distance you can hear thunder from the storm. In some instances when storms are 10 miles away, it can be hard to tell if a storm is nearby. However, if you can hear thunder, you are at risk from being struck by lightning

Inside homes, people must avoid activities which put them at risk from a possible lightning strike. In particular, people should stay away from doors and windows and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. People may also want to take action well before the storm threatens in order to protect property within their homes, such as unplugging electronic equipment.

Finally, in the event a person is struck by lighting, immediate medical care may be necessary to save the person's life. Cardiac arrest and irregularity, burns and nerve damage are common in cases where people have been struck by lightning. However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike, although the long term affects on their lives and the lives of their family can be devastating. For more information about lightning safety, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov


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