FORT LEE, Va. (April 1, 2010) - The outdoors is the most dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm.
Each year, many people in the United States are struck by lightning while working outside, at sporting events, on the beach, mountain climbing, mowing the lawn or during other outdoor activities. In 2008, 28 people in the United States were killed and hundreds more were survivors of lightning strikes. All of the lightning fatalities in 2008 occurred outdoors.
In Colorado, there have been 138 documented lightning fatalities and hundreds of others who were injured by lightning since 1959. The four lightning fatalities in Colorado last year tied with Florida’s 2008 record for the number of lightning deaths for a state. Also in 2008, there were 10 documented lightning strike survivors in Colorado. Many lightning strike survivors are left to cope with permanent disabilities. A significant number of these tragedies can be avoided. Finishing the game and completing yard work is not worth the risk of death or crippling injuries.
Lightning occasionally strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall and has been documented striking up to 20 miles away from the thunderstorm that generated it. Many lightning victims are struck ahead of the storm or shortly after the storm has passed.
Summer is the main lightning season, though it can strike year round. Summer is also the peak season for outdoor work and recreation, making these activities potentially dangerous.
Informed decisions will help avoid lightning. Stay tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, check national weather service Web sites, or access local media for the latest forecasts. The lightning potential index shows the lightning threat for three time periods during the next 48 hours.
Watch for darkening cloud bases or rapidly growing cumulus clouds, and head to safety before the first lightning flash. If thunder can be heard, the storm is close enough for lightning to strike the location at any moment. To be safe, immediately seek protection.
The safest thing to do if outside when lightning or thunder begin is to immediately get inside a substantial building: a house, store or church. A hard-topped vehicle such as a car, truck or bus also offers excellent protection from lightning.
Once inside a substantial building or hard-topped vehicle, keep all windows and doors closed and do not touch any metal. Wait at least 30 minutes from the last rumble of thunder before returning outside.
If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 or the local ambulance service. Give first aid as quickly as possible. If the victim has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
If the person has a pulse and is breathing, address any other injuries. People struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge and can be examined without risk.