Tuesday Tip: Stay Safe During a Lightning Storm

Streamers are ionized currents of air originating from the ground, which extend upwards to meet these descending lightning bolts.

Lightning storms strike fear in many people, and with good reason. The average lightning bolt carries about 30,000 amps of charge, has 100 million volts of electric potential, and is about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the National Weather Service, lightning routinely kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes.

Lightning is unpredictable; it is hard to predict when and where it will strike and how it will behave when it does. In addition to the visible flash that travels through the air, the current associated with a lightning discharge travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm—and can be struck by lightning.

Most people do not realize that they can be struck by lightning even when the center of a thunderstorm is 10 miles away and there are blue skies overhead. If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm—and can be struck by lightning. Seek shelter and avoid situations in which you may be vulnerable.

Lightning can strike individuals in several ways:

  • Direct Strike: Occurs to victims who are in open areas. Direct strikes are not as common as the other ways people are struck by lightning, but they are potentially the most deadly.
  • Side Flash: Occurs when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and a portion of the current jumps from the object to the person. Most often, side flash victims have taken shelter under a tree to avoid rain or hail.
  • 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. This is known as the ground current. Anyone outside near a lightning strike is potentially a victim of ground current. Because the ground current affects a much larger area than the other causes of lightning casualties, the ground current causes the most lightning deaths and injuries. Ground current also kills many farm animals.
  • Conduction: Lightning can travel long distances in wires or other metal surfaces. Most indoor lightning casualties and some outdoor casualties are due to conduction. Whether inside or outside, anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing, or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk. This includes anything that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets and showers, corded phones, and windows and doors.
  • Streamers: Develop as a downward-moving lightning bolt approaches the ground. The bolt often splits, forming branch-like flashes. Streamers are ionized currents of air originating from the ground, which extend upwards to meet these descending lightning bolts. They usually appear to be disconnected from the main strike (see photo above).

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

thunder_roarsThere is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. So, if you are outdoors, seek shelter! Look for shelter inside a home, large building or a hard-topped vehicle right away. Do not go under tall trees for shelter. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder before leaving your shelter.

People on or in or near water are among those most at risk during thunderstorms. This includes those on boats or at the beach or near pools. Swimming is particularly dangerous.

If you feel your hair stand on end, that means lightning is about to strike.

If you feel your hair stand on end, that means lightning is about to strike. Squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet and place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground; but do not lie flat on the ground. This is a last resort when a building or hard-topped vehicle is not available.

Go Cordless

Lightning-HowFarLightning can follow conductors such as electrical wiring, plumbing and telephone lines to the ground. So inside homes, people should also avoid certain activities which could potentially put them at risk from a possible lightning strike.

In particular, people should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. Stay off corded phones, computers and other electronic equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity or plumbing. Most people injured by lightning while inside their homes are talking on the telephone at the time. Avoid washing your hands, bathing, doing laundry or washing dishes.

You may also want to take certain actions well before the storm to protect property within their homes. Surge protectors do not protect against direct lightning strikes. Unplug appliances and other electrical items, like computers, and turn off air conditioners. If you are unable to unplug them, turn them off.

Check out these links for more information:

NWS Lightning Safety: When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

Weather Safety: Lightning – NOAA

Lightning Safety – NFPA Education

Tuesday Tip: Keeping Safe in Extreme Heat

exheatThe Summer months are upon us and the temperature can reach dangerous levels. Here are some tips on how to stay safe in the sweltering heat.

  • Drink plenty of fluids regularly and often. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Drink at least two glasses (8-16 ounces each) of cool fluids each hour. Don’t drink alcohol or sugary beverages —these can cause you to lose more body fluid. Injury and death can occur from dehydration, which can happen quickly and be unnoticed until too late.
  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities. Get plenty of rest to allow your natural “cooling system” to work. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the early morning.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing that will cover as much skin as possible. Put on sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher with UVA/UVB protection 30 minutes before going outside. Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Replace salt and minerals. Heavy sweating removes the salt and minerals that are necessary for your body. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
  • Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach more than 140°F (60°C) within minutes. Even with the windows cracked open, car interior temperatures can rise 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. Exposure to such high temperatures can kill in minutes. When traveling with children, follow these rules:
    • To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver.
    • When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.
  • Stay cool indoors. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, go to the mall or library. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are heat-relief shelters in your area. Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering stress from the heat. Make sure they are indoors or in the shade. Provide plenty of water for drinking as well as for cooling the animals.
  • Monitor those at high risk. Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.
    • Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to keep them cool and provide adequate liquids.
    • People 65 years of age or older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature.
    • Overweight people may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.
    • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.