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When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors

The last week in June is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, an effort by the National Weather Service to help increase lightning safety. Lightning is one of the deadliest weather events in the United States, ahead of flooding and tornadoes.

Florida is considered the lightning capitol of the U.S. as well, due to the geography of the peninsula and the sea breezes from both coasts. Florida’s peninsula is surrounded by water that is cooler than the afternoon temperatures over land. In the summer months, the land heats up quickly and the sea breezes add the moisture. The combination produces almost daily thunderstorms that grow tall and produce excessive lightning.

But it could be worse. Although Florida experiences the most lightning strikes in the U.S. it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 worldwide. In fact, Venezuela is the lightning capital of the world, with 232.52 flashes of lightning per square kilometer on average annually. Back in the U.S. the last 30 years have seen an average of 51 lightning fatalities a year, with 10 of those in Florida. Only 10 percent of those struck by lightning result in fatalities but the other 90 percent will suffer some degree of debilitation.

Lightning Safety Awareness Week reminds people there is no safe place outdoors when a thunderstorm is in the area. Lightning can strike from over 15 miles away. The chances are if you can hear thunder , you may already be in danger. Too many lightning injuries and fatalities happen because people are too slow to react to an approaching storm or too quick to get back outdoors before a storm is a safe distance away. The most dangerous times tend to be immediately before a storm hits and right as it moves away. Since the inception of Lightning Safety Awareness Week in 2001, the number of annual lightning fatalities has dropped to almost half.

Lightning Safety Tips

  • Listen to current weather reports on local TV or radio stations, or use a battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio. Be aware of changing weather conditions. Severe thunderstorms can produce hail, damaging winds and/or tornadoes.

  • There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm.

  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike.

  • When you hear thunder, move to safe shelter immediately, such as a substantial building with electricity and/or plumbing, or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with the windows rolled up.

  • Stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that could put you in direct contact with electricity.

  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.

  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

  • Do not lie on concrete floors. Do not lean against concrete walls.

  • Do not stay on elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.

  • Never lie flat on the ground.

  • Never shelter under an isolated tree.

  • Do not use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.

  • Avoid being in or near bodies of water such as beaches, swimming pools, ponds or lakes.

  • Avoid contact with anything metal - tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, wire fences, golf carts, golf clubs, bicycles, etc.

  • If driving during a severe thunderstorm, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency hazard lights until the heavy rain stops. Avoid flooded roadways and bridges - Turn Around Don't Drown. Just 12 inches of moving water can sweep away most vehicles.

Lightning Facts and Myths from The National Weather Service

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.

Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles, and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.

Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.

Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.

Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!

Lightning educational resources:


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