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FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 11, 2014) -- Many can remember when parents would guide their children inside during thunderstorms where they would wait patiently while Mother Nature did her work. Parents wold turn-off and unplug the television or radio. At an early age, children learned to respect and understand the dangers of thunderstorms and lightning.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lightning is one of the most underrated severe weather hazards, yet ranks as one of the top weather killers in the United States. Lightning strikes in America kill on average 55-60 people and injure hundreds of others each year. Unlike other weather hazards that often involve sophisticated watches and warnings from NOAA National Weather Service, lightning can occur anywhere there is a thunderstorm. That is why the National Weather Service conducts an on-going campaign to educate people about these risks.

Formation

Lightning is a rapid discharge of electrical energy in the atmosphere. The resulting clap of thunder is the result of a shock wave created by the rapid heating and cooling of the air in the lightning channel. During a thunderstorm, winds within the thunderstorm cloud cause collision between the various precipitation particles within the storm cloud. These collisions cause very small ice crystals to lose electrons while larger particles of soft hail gain electrons.

Upward winds within the cloud redistribute these particles and the charges they carry. The soft hail causes a negative charge build up near the middle and lower part of the storm cloud which, in turn, causes a positive charge to build up on the ground beneath the storm cloud. Eventually, when the charge difference between the negative charge in the cloud and the positive charge on the ground become large, the negative charge starts moving toward the ground. As it moves, it creates a conductive path toward the ground.

This path follows a zigzag shape as the negative charge jumps through segments in the air. When the negative charge from the cloud makes a connection with the positive charge on the ground, current surges through the jagged path,creating a visible flash of lightning.

Thunder, high winds, darkening skies, rainfall and brilliant flashes of light are warning signs for lightning strikes.

What you might not know about lightning

All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous. In the United States during an average year, lightning kills about the same number of people as tornadoes and more people than hurricanes.

Lightning often strikes outside the area of heavy rain and may strike as far as 10 miles from any rainfall.

Many deaths occur ahead of storms or after storms have seemingly passed.

If you can hear thunder, there is danger. Don’t be fooled by blue skies. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to pose an immediate threat.

Lightning Quick Facts

Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly if it is a tall, isolated object.

Most lightning victims are in open areas or near a tree.

In Florida, lightning kills more people than all other storm-related weather events.

Lightning can heat its path through the air up to five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

What You Need to Know

No place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area

If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.

When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter.

Safe shelter is a substantial building or inside an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle.

Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

Indoor lightning safety tips

Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put individuals in direct contact with electricity.

Avoid plumbing, including sinks, bath, and faucets.

Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Last resort outdoor risk reduction tips

No place outside is safe when lightning is in the area, but if you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

Have a lightning safety plan. Know where to go for safety and how much time it will take to get there.

Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks

Never lie flat on the ground

Never use a tree for shelter

Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter

Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water

Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc).

Five ways lightning strikes people

Direct strike – A person struck directly by lightning.

Side flash – This occurs when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim.

Ground current – When lightning strikes a tree or other object, much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface.

Conduction – Lightning can travel long distances in wires or other metals.

Streamers – Downward moving leader that approaches the ground with multiple channel discharges.

If someone is struck

Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge, are safe to touch and need urgent medical attention.

Cardiac arrest is the immediate cause of death for those who die. Some deaths can be prevented if the victim receives the proper first aid immediately.

Call for help. Call 9-1-1 or the local Emergency Management Services.

Give first aid. Do not delay CPR if the person is unresponsive or not breathing. Use an Automatic External Defibrillator if one is available.

While most casualties occur at the beginning of an approaching storm, a significant number of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed. If thunder is heard, then the storm is close enough for a strike. It is very important to seek safe shelter immediately. Lightning can strike twice. Please don’t become a victim.

Thunder roars, seek a safe place indoors

The safest place to be when lighting threatens is in a substantial structure with electricity and plumbing. However, when inside during a thunderstorm, avoid contact with anything that could conduct a lightning strike including anything that plugs into a wall outlet, corded phones, plumbing, metal doors and window frames.

Do not take a shower or bath during a thunderstorm. Battery-operated computers and cellphones are fine. Generally, enclosed metal vehicles (not convertibles, motorcycle or bicycles), with the windows rolled up, provide good shelter from lightning. If a storm is approaching, get inside immediately. Gazebos, rain or picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, convertible vehicles and golf carts do not provide protection from lightning.

When lightning can be seen or heard, the danger is present. Thunder becoming louder or more frequent is a sign that lightning activity is approaching, increasing the risk for injury or death. Organizers of outdoor events should monitor the weather and evacuate participants as soon as they hear thunder. School buses are excellent lightning shelters.

Consider placing lightning safety tips and/or the action plan in game programs, flyers, scorecards, etc., and placing lightning safety cards around the area. Most importantly, keep an eye on the sky, listen for thunder, and stay informed by listening to NOAA Weather Radio–All Hazards.

For more lightning information and safety tips, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.