Lightning Safety

    Lu Weil, Injury Prevention Coordinator, Deaconess Regional Trauma Center

    Summertime across the Ohio Valley means cookouts, sporting events, boating, camping, and many other recreational activities. In other words, summer means a lot more people are spending more time outside. That’s great! But summer is also the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena – lightning. Lightning typically receives less attention than other storm-related killers because it does not result in mass destruction or mass casualties like tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes often do. 

    But consider these statistics:
    • About 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the US each year
    • Over the past 30 years, the US has averaged 51 lightning fatalities per year
    • Only about 10% of people struck by lightning are actually killed. The other 90% must cope with varying degrees of discomfort and disability, sometimes for the rest of their lives
    • The vast majority of lightning victims each year are male. In 261 instances, 81% of lightning fatalities were male and 19% were female.

    The purpose of Lightning Safety Awareness Week (each year in late June) is to raise awareness about the hazards of lightning in order to lower the number of deaths and injuries caused by lightning strikes.
    Remember, lightning makes every single thunderstorm a potential killer, whether the storm produces one single bolt or ten thousand bolts.

    Lightning is one of the most erratic and unpredictable characteristics of a thunderstorm. Because of this, no one can guarantee an individual or group absolute protection from lightning. However, knowing and following proven lightning safety guidelines can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death.

    Lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm, much farther out from the area of rainfall within the storm. Therefore, if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance.

    Seek shelter immediately

    The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and houses. If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity and eventually direct it into the ground.

    If no substantial buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus would be a suitable alternative.

    Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings with exposed sides, such as metal sheds, picnic shelters, carports or baseball dugouts, are not safe. Neither are vehicles such as convertible cars (even with the top up), golf carts, tractors and construction equipment.

    Here are some other lightning safety guidelines to keep in mind:
    • Don’t use corded phones. Using a corded phone during a thunderstorm is one of the leading causes of indoor lightning injuries. However, it is safe to use cordless or cell phones as long as they are not being charged.
    • Stay away from windows and doors. Sitting on an open porch to watch a thunderstorm is also dangerous. It is best to be in an interior room during a thunderstorm.
    • Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords. Any device that uses electricity (e.g., computers, televisions, household appliances, etc.) is susceptible to a lightning strike. Electrical surges caused by lightning can damage electronics, and a typical surge protector will do little to protect the device (or the person using it) if lightning should strike.
    • Avoid plumbing. Metal plumbing and the water inside are both very good conductors of electricity. Therefore, do not wash your hands or dishes, take a shower or bath, do laundry, etc. during a thunderstorm.
    • Refrain from touching concrete surfaces. Lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring, such as in the basement or garage.
    • If inside a vehicle: roll the windows up and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g., metal surfaces, ignition, portable electronic devices plugged in for charging, etc.)
    To read about lightning myths versus facts, visit http://www.weather.gov/iln/lightningsafetyweek
    Posted: June 29, 2017 by Kate Reibel

    Tags: lightening, safety, trauma

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