It just so happens that this past week of daily thunderstorms coincided with Lightning Safety Awareness Week. Really. I mean, talk about perfect timing. And be forewarned: those sky-sent bolts of electricity we’ve been witnessing can be deadly; of that, have no doubt.
For starters, we apparently can hear thunder even when ten miles or so from a lightning strike, and that means we’re actually within striking distance ourselves. Who knew, right? Best advice: Heed that old adage, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
Evidently, last year alone, 28 people were actually struck and killed in the U.S.—most of them children and young men between 10 and 35. As for the majority who’s struck but survives, they can be left with numbness, ruptured eardrums, even paralysis or Parkinson’s-like symptoms. And it can happen to any one of us. Indeed, in 2011, there were 395,044 cloud-to-ground flashes in Pennsylvania alone, so take precautions.
If outdoors and there’s no place to take cover, heed this advice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but note that it comes with the caveat that such steps may only “slightly reduce” your risk:
- “Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.
- Never lie flat on the ground.
- Never shelter under an isolated tree.
- 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.)”
As for why we’re advised against lying flat on the ground, that’s because doing so runs the risk of being hit by deadly ground current. Oh, and by the way, hanging out under a tree during a storm is the second leading cause of lightning injuries or death.
Meanwhile, there are several long-standing myths with no basis in fact, such as:
- “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” ~ Actually it often strikes the same place repeatedly.
- “If it’s not raining or there are no clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.” ~ Not so; lightning frequently strikes more than 3 miles from the storm’s center—sometimes even 10 or 15 miles from it.
- “Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.” ~ Apparently, it’s the metal roof and sides that offer protection, not the tires.
- “If you’re in a house, you’re 100% safe from lightning.” ~ That’s true only if you steer clear of anything that conducts electricity, such as corded phones, computers, and electrical appliances. Avoid windows, too, as lightning can come in through the cracks along their sides or they can be broken by blowing objects.
Bottom line: When it comes to lightning, know the risks and stay safe, not sorry.