Lightning Awareness Week under way

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

Earlier this week, the national media reported the story of an Atlanta man who was struck by lightning as he prepared to work in his yard.

At the time he was struck, the man said the sun was out and he didn’t hear any thunder or see any lightning.

He had picked up a rake, and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground, his leg was burned and his shoes were across the driveway and smoking.

The man suffered an irregular heartbeat and was hospitalized over night.

He was one of the lucky ones.

According to a report by Lightning Safety Specialist John S. Jensenius Jr., with the National Weather Service, between 2006 and 2013, 261 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of those victims had been enjoying outdoor leisure activities at the time they were struck.

While many people believe golfers are at highest risk of being struck, Jensenius reported three times as many fatalities occurred among fisherman, with camping and boating each accounting for more than twice the number of deaths as golf.

June 22 to 28 is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, the time weather professionals set aside to educate the public about remaining safe during the peak months for lightning activity in the United States — June, July and August.

The NWS cautions that during thunderstorms, there are no safe places outside.

Anthony Cavallucci, warnings coordination meteorologist with the NWS office in Morristown, warned that “if you hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning.”

Even if it’s not raining, no clouds are overhead and you don’t hear thunder — as with the Atlanta man — you can still be struck.

According to the NWS, these “bolts from the blue” can strike 10 to 15 miles from the thunderstorm and lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud.

He said there is one inexpensive lightning detector that can alert people that lightning is in the area — an AM radio. The meteorologist said the radio doesn’t have to be tuned to any station. It will broadcast static when it picks up lightning flashes from “thunderstorms that could develop right over you.”

“Radio will detect it (lightning) way before you hear the thunder,” Cavallucci said, adding that when he worked at in Lubbock, Texas, an AM radio was able to detect lightning at the New Mexico/Texas border, more than 100 miles away.

He also advises people to “keep your eyes to the clouds.”

Cumulonimbus clouds, the large puffy clouds that can reach 39,000 feet into the atmosphere, are both beautiful and can be a harbinger of storms to come. These clouds are associated with powerful thunderstorms.

Cavallucci said the “higher they get, the better the chance of thunderstorms developing and the faster you better get off the water.”

The NWS offers lightning safety tips:

• When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.

• Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that puts you in direct contact with electricity.

• Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.

• Stay away from windows and doors and stay off porches.

• Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.

If you are caught outside without safe shelter nearby, tips to reduce your risk of being struck:

• 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.).

For more information about lightning, thunderstorms and tips on how to remain safe, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

-By Denise Williams, Tribune Staff Writer

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