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Lightning Safety During the Summer Storm Season

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 5-Jun-2008

With powerful, fast-moving thunderstorms sweeping through the DC area yesterday, and with more storms on the horizon this summer, it’s important to be familiar with some general lightning safety tips. Understanding lightning and its dangers, as well as what to do during a storm can help significantly reduce the risk of lightning related injury, or even save your life. The National Weather Service (NWS) estimates that there are 25 million lightning flashes each year. Lightning has also killed an average of 62 people per year over the past 30 years. However, because lightning normally affects only one or two victims at a time and generally does not cause mass destruction (like a hurricane or tornado), it is underrated as a risk. Also, lightning is one of the most variable and unpredictable aspects of a thunderstorm, thus there are no guarantees that an individual or group is absolutely protected from lightning.

While the NWS is quick to remind that no place is completely safe from lightning, it assures that some places are safer than others.

"Where to go:

  • 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 private residences.
  • If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity more efficiently than a human body. If no buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus makes a decent alternative.

Where NOT to go:

  • Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings which are NOT SAFE (even if they are "grounded") have exposed openings. These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.
  • Convertible vehicles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is "up". Other vehicles which are NOT SAFE during lightning storms are those which have open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction equipment.

What to do:

  • Once inside a sturdy building, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures. As an added safety measure, stay in an interior room.
  • If you are inside a vehicle, roll the windows up, and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. radios, CB’s, ignition, etc.).

What NOT to do:

  • Lightning can travel great distances through power lines, especially in rural areas. Do not use electrical appliances, ESPECIALLY corded telephones unless it is an emergency (cordless and cell phones are safe to use).
  • Computers are also dangerous as they usually are connected to both phone and electrical cords. Do not take a shower or bath or use a hot tub."

For more information on lightning safety and risk reduction, see the National Weather Service.

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