A bolt of lightning is one of the more beautiful displays that Mother Nature provides. However, it is also one of the most deadly. Over the past 30 years, lightning ranks as the #3 severe weather killer, falling behind tornadoes and flooding and ranking just ahead of hurricanes. Thanks to increased awareness, lightning fatalities have fallen over the past 15 to 20 years. Lightning is also responsible for more than $1 billion in damages annually. Due to both the frequency of thunderstorms as well as its sheer size, Texas experiences twice as many cloud to ground lightning strikes as the next closest state (Florida). Following some simple safety precautions can save your life in the event that you are caught outdoors during a thunderstorm.
Plan ahead! Know the weather forecast before you head out.
The best way to avoid harm from lightning is to be inside a safe structure during a thunderstorm.
A safe structure is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and a floor, and has plumbing or wiring.
Unsafe structures include tents, patios, carports, baseball dugouts, greenhouses, and sheds.
Avoid showers, sinks, tubs, and electrical equipment such as computers, corded telephones, stoves and radios.
If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm...
Try to find a safe structure.
Take shelter inside of a vehicle.
Spread out (to avoid multiple victims in the event of a strike)
Avoid tall objects or high ground, standing water, metal objects, and open spaces.
Fig 2. Lightning safety crouch
If you feel your skin begin to tingle or your hair standing on end, this is due to the rapid build-up of static charge. This is Nature's final warning. However, this is not a reliable indicator as many lightning strikes occur with no warning. If this happens, seek shelter immediately. If no shelter is available, crouch as low as possible on the balls of your feet and "ball up". This will limit your contact with the ground and reduce your chances of being struck. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.
Over the past 30 years lightning has killed an average of more than 50 people per year. However, over the past 10 years, the average falls to 35 fatalities.
Approximately 300 additional injuries are documented each year, however, many injuries are not reported.
Eighty percent of lightning casualties are male.
Lightning can heat the air as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and may carry as much as 1,000,000 volts.
Fact or Myth?
Myth: Lightning never strikes twice in the same place!
Fact: It has been well documented that lightning may strike certain objects frequently.
Myth: Rubber tires keep you safe in a car!
Fact: Most cars are safe but that is largely due to the metal frame of the vehicle.
Myth: A lightning strike victim may hold an electrical charge, making medical assistance dangerous!
Fact: The human body does NOT store electricity. Administer first aid, possibly including CPR, as quickly as possible.
Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, it is advisable to take shelter beneath a tree!
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the 2nd leading cause of lightning casualties.