Lightning season safety: important tips for staying safe during thunderstorms | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

BY THE OPTIMIST DAILY EDITORIAL STAFF

As the warm weather tempts people outside for barbecues, beach trips, and ballgames, it’s important to remember that summer is also lightning season. Every year, lightning strikes the United States approximately 37 million times, taking an average of 21 lives.

Lightning, a large electric spark in the atmosphere, is classified according to whether it strikes the Earth. “In-cloud lightning” stays within the clouds, whereas “cloud-to-ground” lightning strikes things on the earth. Although cloud-to-ground lightning makes up just 10 to 50 percent of a thunderstorm’s lightning, it can inflict major damage, such as fires, injuries, and deaths. 

Lightning occurs when rain, ice crystals, and graupel, a type of hail, collide within a thunderstorm cloud. These impacts generate an electric charge, the majority of which resides in the clouds. When the charge becomes sufficiently powerful, it can create an opposite charge on the ground, resulting in cloud-to-ground lightning. Despite extensive investigation, no one knows exactly what causes a lightning strike.

When and where lightning strikes

Lightning can strike whenever thunderstorm conditions exist, which include moisture, atmospheric instability, and rising air. The majority of lightning in the United States occurs in June, July, and August, accounting for more than 60 percent of the year’s activity. While less common, lightning can still strike during the winter, accounting for approximately two percent of annual strikes.

Lightning strikes in every state, yet it is more common in certain places. Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi frequently have the highest amount of lightning strikes. However, more than 30 states consistently report at least one million lightning strikes each year.

How to stay safe: key tips

Approximately 75 percent of lightning fatalities in the United States occur between June and August. Fortunately, lightning safety requires only a few precautions:

1. Monitor the weather forecast: If thunderstorms are expected, postpone outdoor plans, particularly near water. Beaches are especially dangerous because lightning tends to strike the tallest object, and water is an excellent conductor of electricity.
2. Be aware of warning signs: The rule of thumb is, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” If you notice darkening clouds, hear thunder, or see lightning, seek refuge in a lightning-safe area.
Finding a lightning-safe place

During a thunderstorm, two locations are deemed safe: large buildings and fully enclosed metal vehicles.

Substantial building: This includes residences, stores, offices, and any other structure having four walls and a roof, as well as electrical wiring and piping protected within the walls. If lightning strikes, the power passes through the walls, not through you. Structures like dugouts, picnic shelters, and gazebos are unsafe.
Fully enclosed metal vehicle: If lightning strikes a metal vehicle, the electricity is routed through the metal shell, protecting the occupants. It is a fallacy that rubber tires provide protection. Vehicles like golf carts and convertibles do not offer the same level of safety.

When you’re outside, go to a lightning-safe location as soon as a storm appears, even if it’s quite far away. Avoid trees, especially tall and isolated ones, and do not stay crouched in place, as this does not make you safer and increases your exposure time.

Responding to lightning strikes

In the terrible event that someone is struck by lightning, keep in mind that lightning victims are not electrically charged. Call 911 immediately and start first assistance. Fortunately, approximately 90 percent of lightning strike victims survive, but they must seek immediate medical assistance to treat possibly serious injuries.

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