10th Anniversary of the NWS's
Lightning Safety Awareness Week
June 20-26, 2010

Introduction to Lightning Safety

In the United States each year, there are about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. While lightning can be fascinating to watch, it is extremely dangerous. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, between the years 1990 and 2003, there were 756 lightning deaths in the United States. Bringing that down to the local level, Alabama had 24 reported lightning deaths during that time, which ranked 7th in the nation for highest mortality rate.  While the 30-year average of annual deaths has dropped from 72 to 58, there are still people who wait too long to seek safe shelter. We’ve already had five deaths this summer, nationwide, so we continue to urge people to follow the motto, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors . . .and stay there at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.”

Throughout the week, we will highlight certain aspects of Lightning Safety.  Here are the topics that will be covered each day:

Monday, June 21 An Introduction to Lightning Safety
Tuesday, June 22 The Science of Lightning
Wednesday, June 23 Outdoor Lightning Safety
Thursday, June 24 Safe Shelter and Indoor Lightning Safety
Friday, June 25 Medical Aspects of Lightning

During a thunderstorm, each lightning flash is a potential killer. Lightning can even strike up to 10 miles from the main area of the thunderstorm. That is about the distance you can hear thunder from the storm. Whether or not you can see the actual lightning flash, if you can hear thunder, you are at risk of being struck. In addition to the visible flash of light, the current associated with the lightning discharge travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck directly by the stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

People need to become aware of what behavior puts them at greatest risk of being struck by lightning and know what they can do to reduce that risk. Those in charge of outdoor activities and events 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 the 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 at greater risk of being struck. Even indoors, people must avoid activities which will put them at risk. In particular, people should stay away from outside doors and windows and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity.

Finally, in the event a person is struck by lightning, immediate medical care may be necessary to save the person's life. Cardiac arrest, 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 effects on their lives and the lives of their families can be devastating.

Our Lightning Safety Team has prepared a new lightning safety brochure, Lightning Safety for You and Your Family.  A printable file version is available on the National Weather Service Lightning Safety Awareness web site, along with a wealth of safety information, statistics, and posters.

Additional reference material on Lightning:

Leon the Lightning Lion coloring book  (for kids)

Toolkit for communities and counties   

Lightning Safety for Large Venues 

Lightning Safety Brochure

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