Lightning Dangers

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So far in 2018, 12 lives have been claimed due to a lightning strike in the United States. Most lightning fatalities happen in the month of July, but can happen any time.

Here are the reported activities at the time of the fatal lightning strike:

  • repairing a fence
  • mud bogging
  • working on farm
  • playing (under a tree)
  • construction
  • weed trimming
  • on beach
  • fishing
  • roofing
  • yard work
  • mowing lawn

Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured. (Source: National Weather Service)

Lightning-related deaths and injuries are highly preventable if you have the proper information before a storm strikes and know the actions to take during a storm.

First, monitor the forecast. If storms, thundershowers to severe, are in the forecast, make a plan for the day to postpone outdoor activities.

When the storm approaches, it is time to take action. The rule of thumb is “if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning”. A common myth is that if it’s not raining or if there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning. The truth is lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm. Many times, victims wait too long to seek shelter and increase their risk.

Technology has drastically improved to help us predict when lightning will reach your location. The Live Doppler 13 weather app is designed to take your GPS location and calculate the distance to the nearest lightning strike. A push alert is then sent to your phone, letting you know well in advance when it is time to seek shelter.

If you happen to be caught outside away from your smart phone, there is an easy, old-fashioned way to calculate how far away you are from lightning strikes.

Simply count the number of seconds that pass between a flash of lightning and the crack of thunder that follows it, then divide that number by five. The resulting number will tell you how many miles away you are from where lightning just struck. This is a simplified calculation based on the fact that light moves much faster than sound.

Five seconds, for example, indicates the lightning struck 1 mile away, and a 10-second gap means the lightning was 2 miles away.

The National Weather Service recommends taking cover if the time between the lightning flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less, which indicates the lightning is about 6 miles away or closer.

After the storm passes, you’re not out of the woods just yet. It isn’t completely safe to go back to your activities until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike.

We’ve also heard you’re okay to seek shelter from lightning in the car because of the rubber tires. It is safe to seek shelter in a car, but it’s the car’s frame that protects you from the outside, not the rubber tires. That’s why this doesn’t hold true for things like convertibles, motorcycles, and bicycles.