Lightning claims another vicitim. How can you stay safe?

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN  Meteorologist

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in the numbers of lightning-related injuries and fatalities, and that proved to remain true over the weekend as two more people were struck and killed while outdoors.  In Long Pond, PA, 10 spectators were struck by lightning at the NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway this past Sunday.  Sadly, one of those victims, a 41 year old man and father of 4, died as a result of injuries received when he was struck while leaning against his car in the parking lot.  On Monday afternoon, a man and his stepson were struck by lightning in Florida while running to seek shelter from an approaching storm.  The stepfather was killed, and his stepson is still recovering from his injuries.

According to the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, on average, 54 people are killed by lightning in the U.S. each year, with July being the peak month for fatalities, averaging 16 deaths.  June and August are a close 2nd place at 12 deaths on average.  There have been 20 lightning-related deaths this year, including the two recent fatalities, and that is actually below normal up to this point when compared to the last 7 years.  Texas has seen the most lightning-related fatalities so far with 3 deaths across the state.  Also of note, when looking at those killed by lightning, 85% are males, approximately 60% of people struck are between the ages of 40 and 69, and the day of the week when most people are killed by lightning is Saturday.  Read more about these statistics from the NWS and NOAA: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.htm

Lightning Safety Tips

 If you are making outdoor plans, or in the unfortunate event you are caught in severe weather while outside, you should make a plan to protect you and your family.  Here are some lightning safety tips:

  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck!  Seek a sturdy shelter immediately.
  • If you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm in an open area, do not allow yourself to be the tallest object.
  • Avoid tall trees, towers, utility poles, water, and any metal objects.
  • Stay away from windows and do not use corded phones if inside during a thunderstorm.

If you are attending an organized outdoor event, you should still plan ahead for inclement weather.  Here are some steps you and your family should take to prepare:

Check the weather before heading out.

  • Once you arrive at the event, familiarize yourself with the area and check with event organizers or look for signs that may instruct you where to seek shelter during bad weather.
  • Designate a group meeting place for you and your family to meet.
  • Use your smartphone apps or weather radio to monitor developments of severe weather, and know what county you are located in the event a warning is issued.

Also remember that if bad weather is heading your way, you should seek shelter as soon as possible.  Although the heavy rains, wind, or hail associated with a severe or non-severe thunderstorm, may not have arrived reached you yet, lightning can occur within several miles radius of a storm.

While tragic incidents like those mentioned earlier cannot always be prevented, the frequency of events like these can be reduced with proper planning and implementation of safety precautions.  Public response and cooperation are also vital in helping to ensure personal safety, so if you hear thunder or are warned of approaching bad weather, you should seek shelter immediately.  You can read more on lightning safety and thunderstorm development from the National Weather Service: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm

 

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