With the exception of flooding, lightning kills more people annually than any other weather-related hazard, according to national safety experts.
Residents of Virginia have witnessed the fury of Mother Nature a few times over the past couple of weeks, and they’re likely to see much more to come either as the result of soaring temperatures or the arrival of tropical storms and hurricanes during their peak season of June through November.
It’s a well-studied and verified fact that most Americans have a tendency to dismiss the dangers of severe weather, thinking it’s more of a nuisance than something that could potentially cause serious injury or death. Lightning is high on the overlooked hazard list because people doubt there is any chance they’ll be struck or it’s too far away to be of concern.
Many lightning victims are caught outside in storms and can’t get to a safe place. Other people are struck by lightning because they went outdoors too soon following a storm. Finally, some victims are struck inside buildings while in contact with electronics, corded phones, plumbing, or metal doors and window frames. These situations can all be avoided with proper planning and awareness of what to do during a thunderstorm to reduce the risk of being struck by lightning.
Be aware of warning signs
High winds, rainfall, darkening cloud cover, thunder and flashes of light are the warning signs for possible cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. If these conditions begin to develop, look for emergency announcements including those transmitted to the Team Lee workforce through the Alert Emergency Notification System (read more about it at www.fortleetraveller.com, typing “Alert” in the search bar). It’s a good practice, also, to monitor local radio or television stations for emergency updates, keeping in mind the difference between a Severe Thunderstorm Watch and Warning.
A watch indicates severe thunderstorms are possible in the area, while a warning is issued when severe weather is occurring or will likely occur soon. If a warning is issued, take shelter immediately in a substantial building or in a hard-topped vehicle.
While many lightning casualties happen at the beginning of an approaching storm, more than 50 percent of deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed. The lightning threat diminishes after the last sound of thunder but may persist for more than 30 minutes. When thunderstorms are in the area, but not overhead, the lightning threat can exist when skies are clear.
People should use the 30/30 lightning safety rule to determine when and how long to seek shelter. If they see lightning and cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, go indoors. Then stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder. This accounts for the length lightning can strike from its parent thunderstorm and encourages people to take shelter during the time before and after a storm when most are struck by lightning.
Lightning safety tips
If a thunderstorm is likely in a nearby area, postpone outdoor activities. When cloud rumbles are heard, begin to seek safe shelter and plan to stay there for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that puts individuals in direct contact with electricity. Also avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
If no safe shelter or car is available, immediately go to the lowest nearby area and make yourself the smallest target possible. Never lie flat on the ground.
Avoid elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks. Never use trees, cliffs or rocky overhangs for shelter.
Stay away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water, as well as objects that conduct electricity.
If someone is struck by lightning, do not hesitate to give first aid immediately. Victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to touch. Call 911. Give CPR if the person is unresponsive and not breathing. Use an Automatic External Defibrillator if one is available.
In the aftermath of a storm, stay away from downed power lines and report them immediately. If possible, stay away from storm-damaged areas entirely to keep from putting yourself at risk from the effects of severe thunderstorms.
For more lightning information and safety tips, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.