Lightning safety

Photo of lightning in Chapin shared by Robby W.
Photo of lightning in Chapin shared by Robby W.
Jimmy F. told he was sitting on his porch and captured this lightning strike during an approaching storm on June 11, 2007.
Jimmy F. told he was sitting on his porch and captured this lightning strike during an approaching storm on June 11, 2007.
Jesse T. says this photo shows lightning in Elgin on August 21, 2005.
Jesse T. says this photo shows lightning in Elgin on August 21, 2005.

COLUMBA, SC (WIS) - Lightning is a serious danger.

According to the National Weather Service in Columbia, between January 1, 1993, and September 30, 1999, lightning caused an estimated $20 million in property damage in South Carolina, injured 47 people, and killed nine people.

In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million lightning flashes each year, according to the National Weather Service. Lightning kills 93 people and injures over 300 each year in the United States. The average flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than three months. Most lightning occurs within the cloud or between the cloud and ground.

Because lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time and does not cause mass destruction of property, it is underrated as a risk. In recent years, people have been killed by lightning while boating, standing under a tree, playing soccer, swimming, riding on a lawnmower, fishing in a boat, golfing, talking on the telephone, mountain climbing, bike riding or loading a truck.

The National Weather Service offers the following safety tips:

Watch for developing thunderstorms: Thunderstorms are most likely to develop on spring or summer days but can occur year round. As the sun heats the air, pockets of warmer air start to rise and cumulus clouds form. Continued heating can cause these clouds to grow vertically into towering cumulus clouds, often the first sign of a developing thunderstorm.

An approaching thunderstorm - when to seek safe shelter: Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from area where it is raining. That's about the distance you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.

Outdoor activities: minimize the risk of being struck: Most lightning deaths and injuries occur in the summer. Where organized outdoor sports activities take place, coaches, camp counselors and other adults must stop activities at the first roar of thunder to ensure everyone time to get a large building or enclosed vehicle. Leaders of outdoors events should have a written plan that all staff are aware of and enforce.

Indoor activities: Things to Avoid: Inside building, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Stay away from pools, indoor or outdoor, tubs, showers and other plumbing. Buy surge suppressors for key equipment. Install ground fault protectors on circuits near water or outdoors. When inside, wait 30 minutes after the last strike, before going out again.

Helping a lightning strike victim: If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical care immediately. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning. However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike. You are in no danger helping a lightning victim. The charge will not affect you.

Lightning is dangerous. With common sense, you can greatly increase your safety and the safety of those you are with. At the first clap of thunder, go a large building or fully enclosed vehicle and wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder to back outside

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers these facts about lightning:

  • Lightning's unpredictability increases the risk to individuals and property.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
  • "Heat lightning" is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction!
  • Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
  • Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000, but could be reduced even further by following safety precautions.
  • Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately