When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!
Lightning kills over 50 people in the U.S. each year. But deaths are only part of the lightning story. Only about 10% of those struck are killed; 90% survive. However, many of the survivors suffer devastating life-long injuries. The injuries can be so severe the person is debilitated and can’t earn a living. These injuries are primarily neurological, with a wide range of symptoms, and are very difficult to diagnose. Lightning also causes over $5 billion of economic loss each year in the U.S. from fires and other property destruction.
While lightning strike frequencies are high in the Southeast, Midwest, and the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains, all states have some lightning threat. Fortunately, most lightning deaths and injuries can be easily avoided. Remember, NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE NEAR A THUNDERSTORM.
Public education is the key. The vast majority of lightning casualties can be easily avoided if people know what to do. Lightning Safety Awareness Week provides a good opportunity to learn about lightning safety. This year, the event is June 24-30, 2012.
Lightning safety is easy, but it is also inconvenient. It requires diligence and continual reinforcement and encouragement. Your level of safety around thunderstorms is directly linked to your ability to plan ahead and your willingness to be inconvenienced should a thunderstorm develop.
NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE NEAR A THUNDERSTORM
PLAN AHEAD: If you plan to be outside, listen to the latest weather forecast for your area and know your local weather patterns. Schedule your outdoor activities to avoid the lightning hazard. You can get the weather forecast from your local National Weather Service office at www.nws.noaa.gov.
WHILE OUTSIDE: While outside, monitor the weather conditions and stay near a safer location. Adults must be responsible for the lightning safety of children in their care. Coaches and referees of children’s outdoor sports must be especially aware of lightning safety. Fight the urge to finish the game or get in just one more play. When thunder roars, even if the sky is clear, go indoors or to a hard-topped vehicle immediately. Hesitation could lead to your children being killed or injured for life. Don’t leave your safe place until 30 minutes after hearing the last thunder
SAFE LOCATIONS: While no place offers 100% guaranteed safety against lightning, some places are definitely safer than others. When lightning threatens, seek shelter immediately. Many lightning occur when people were very close to safe shelter but waited too long to seek shelter.
The safest shelter is a large fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing such as a house. Once inside, stay away from any conducting path to the outside. Stay off corded telephones. Stay away from electrical appliances, lighting, and electric sockets. Stay away from plumbing. Don’t watch lightning from windows or doorways. In large buildings, inner rooms are generally better.
If you can’t get to a house, a vehicle with a solid metal roof and metal sides is a good second choice. Close the windows, lean away from the door, put your hands in your lap, and don’t touch the steering wheel, ignition, gear shifter, or radio. Convertibles, cars with fiberglass or plastic shells, open framed vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles offer no lightning protection.
MYTH: Cars are safe because the rubber tires insulate them from the ground.
TRUTH: Cars are safe because of their metal shell.
IF YOU ARE STUCK OUTSIDE: If you are stuck outside and far from a safe shelter, at least avoid the most dangerous locations and activities. Avoid elevated places. Avoid open areas, including sports fields. Avoid tall isolated objects like trees, poles, and light posts. Avoid water-related activities: boating, swimming (including indoor pools) and fishing. Avoid golfing. Avoid open vehicles with open cockpits like some farm tractors, open construction vehicles, riding lawnmowers, golf carts (even with roofs), etc. Avoid unprotected open structures like picnic pavilions, rain shelters, and bus stops. Avoid long metal objects like fences and bleachers.
IF LIGHTNING IS ABOUT TO STRIKE. If you’ve made several bad decisions and are outside far away from a safe location and lightning threatens, go to the safest location possible. Get away from elevated places, open areas, tall isolated objects, and away from water. While on your way to the safest spot you can find, look for the signs that lightning is imminent. Sometimes lightning will give a very few seconds of warning. Sometimes your hair will stand-up on end, or your skin will tingle, or light metal objects will vibrate, or you’ll hear a crackling or “kee‑kee” sound. If this happens and you’re in a group, spread out so there are several body lengths between each person. That way, if one person is struck, the others may not be hit and can give first aid. When the immediate threat of lightning has passed, continue heading to the safest spot possible. Remember, this is a desperate last resort; you are much safer having followed the previous steps and not gotten into this high-risk situation.
A common myth is that metal attracts lightning. The three factors that dominate where lightning strikes near a thunderstorm are height, isolation, and shape – a tall pointy object alone in a large open area is the most likely point to get struck by lightning. The object’s composition has virtually nothing to affect it being struck. After all, mountains are often struck by lightning, yet they are made of dirt and stone. Therefore, don’t waste time removing glasses, jewelry, backpacks, etc. from your body. Get to the safest place you can as fast as possible. However, you do want to avoid large metal objects like metal fences or bleachers. If lightning does happen to strike them, they can conduct the deadly electricity a long distance to you.
MYTH: Metal attracts lightning.
TRUTH: Height, isolation, and shape dominate where lightning will strike near a thunderstorm.
LIGHTNING FIRST AID: All deaths from lightning are cardiac arrest and by the stopped breathing that follows. Call 9‑1‑1 to get professional help and immediately apply CPR or rescue breathing, as necessary. Only about 10% of lightning victims are killed.
The short-term medical impacts of lightning can include light skin burns, concussive injury, temporary deafness, and even temporary flash blindness for nearby lightning strikes. Long-term medical impacts are mostly neurological. While the range and intensity of symptoms can vary widely, some of the most common symptoms include pain (especially headache), chronic fatigue, memory difficulty, and difficulty concentrating. Sometimes the injuries are so intense that the survivor is debilitated and can’t maintain employment or previous relationships, with devastating impact on themselves, family, and friends. Unfortunately, few physicians have experience in treating lightning injuries. It is important that lightning survivors seek out proper medical care and/or learn about the medical aspects of lightning. A good source of information on lightning injuries for physicians, and survivors and their families is the Lightning Injury Research Program. It is also important for lightning survivors to seek support from other survivors. The Lightning Strike And Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc. provides valuable support group services to lightning survivors, www.lightning-strike.org.
MYTH: Lightning victims are electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
TRUTH: It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
No lightning safety guidelines will give 100% guaranteed total safety, but following these easy procedures will help you avoid the majority of lightning casualties. Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 24-30, 2012. Learn more at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov