Lightning kills more than 50 people in the U.S. each year and causes life-long debilitating injuries to hundreds more. While Florida is the “Thunderstorm Capital” of the U.S., all states have some lightning threat. Fortunately, most lightning deaths and injuries are easily avoided. Remember, NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE NEAR A THUNDERSTORM.
The first step in lightning safety is to plan your outdoor activities to avoid as much of the lightning threat as you can. Watch the local weather forecasts and know your local weather patterns. The forecast from your local National Weather Service office can be found at www.nws.noaa.gov, and on local television or radio stations.
When outside, keep an eye on the sky. If you are planning an outdoor event, bring along a NOAA Weather Radio or AM radio or Internet Weather Alert system and check it regularly. Most people are struck by lightning before or just after a storm. Why? Because they wait too long to seek shelter or go back outside too soon. So if you hear thunder roar, go indoors immediately and don’t go outside until at least 30 minutes after hearing the last thunder.
The safest place from lightning is inside a large, fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing, e.g., a typical house. But stay away from any conducting path to the outside such as corded telephones, electrical appliances and plumbing. Don’t watch lightning from doorways or windows.
If you can’t get to a house, a vehicle with a metal roof and metal sides is a good second choice. Roll-up the windows, lean away from the door, and don’t touch any conducting path going outside, e.g., radio, keys in the ignition, steering wheel, etc. Remember, it’s not the rubber tires insulating you from the ground that make vehicles safe, but rather the metal shell that conducts the electricity around you. Convertibles, motorcycles, cars made of fiberglass and plastic and open shelled outdoor recreation vehicles aren’t safe.
If you can’t get to a house or vehicle, avoid the most hazardous places and activities. Stay off elevated places, like mountains, buildings, and high playground equipment. Keep away from open areas, including sports fields and beaches. Get away from tall isolated objects like trees. Going under trees to keep dry persists in being the second leading cause of lightning casualties in the U.S.
Stop water-related activities, including swimming, boating, and fishing. Get out of the water at the first hint of lightning threat. Get off of open vehicles like cabin-less tractors, bulldozers, four-wheel recreational vehicles, etc. But remember, NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE NEAR A THUNDERSTORM. You are much safer going inside a house or car.
All lightning deaths result from cardiac arrest. If you’re with a victim, call 9-1-1 to get professional medical help then apply CPR if possible. A common myth is that lightning victims are electrified and dangerous to approach. About 90% of lightning victims survive, so your first aid may save a life.
For more information on lightning safety, visit BeReadyLexington.com/lightning or www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
More information about emergency preparedness is available from the Division of Emergency Management website available at: BeReadyLexington.com. Information from the division is also available through the Lexington Emergency Management Facebook page – LexingtonKYEM. Information is also available via the Division of Emergency Management Twitter account: @lexkyem