Outdoor Lightning Safety
Outdoors is the most dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm. Each year...many people in the United States are struck by lightning while working outside, at sports events, on the beach, mountain climbing, mowing the lawn or during other outdoor activities. In 2010…29 people in the United States were killed and hundreds more were survivors of a lightning strike. All of the lightning fatalities in 2010 occurred outdoors.
In Colorado…since 1959 there have been 140 documented lightning fatalities and hundreds of others who were injured by lightning. Many survivors of a lightning strike are left to cope with permanent disabilities. A significant number of these tragedies can be avoided. Finishing the game, getting a tan, or completing yard work is not worth the risk of death or a crippling injury.
Lightning occasionally strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall, and has been documented to strike up to 20 miles away from the thunderstorm which generated the lightning. Many lightning victims are struck ahead of the storm or shortly after the storm has passed.
Summer is the main lightning season...though it can strike year round. Summer is also the peak season for outdoor work and recreation…putting those involved in potential danger. In 2010…all but one fatality occurred between early May and early September.
Informed decisions will help you avoid lightning. Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, check National Weather Service web sites, or access your favorite media for the latest forecasts. A forecast resource for western Colorado is the graphical Lightning Potential Index which can be found on the Grand Junction National Weather Service website, weather.gov/gjt, under local information. The Lightning Potential Index shows the lightning threat for three time periods during the next 48 hours.
If thunderstorms are in the forecast, plan an alternate indoor activity or make plans which will allow you to quickly seek shelter.
Watch for darkening cloud bases or rapidly growing cumulus clouds and head to safety before that first lightning flash. If you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough that lightning could strike your location at any moment, and you should immediately seek protection.
The safest thing for you to do if you are outside and lightning or thunder begins to occur is to immediately get inside a substantial building, such as a house, a store or a church. A metal-roofed vehicle such as a car, a truck or a bus also offer excellent protection from lightning. Once inside a substantial building or hard topped vehicle, keep all windows and doors closed, and do not touch any metal inside the vehicle. It is then recommended that you wait at least 30 minutes from the last rumble of thunder before returning outside.
A recent lightning safety study has shown that 95 percent of the people who were struck by lightning while outdoors had a substantial building or vehicle nearby. Remember, there is no safe place outdoors when lightning is occurring. Do not seek shelter under picnic shelters, dugouts, porches, trees, carports or tents. These types of structures are not safe when lightning is occurring. In 2010, a third of all lightning fatalities in the United States occurred under trees.
It is very important that all sports leagues and other outdoor groups have a lightning response plan that is understood and consistently applied for the safety of the participants. Part of the plan would include a designated weather watcher at each outdoor event with the authority to postpone or cancel the event due to the threat of lightning.
While seeking shelter from lightning...
Avoid metal, since metal objects are good conductors of electricity. Do not hold on to fishing rods, golf clubs, tennis rackets or metal tools during a thunderstorm. Drop metal framed backpacks. Stay away from clothes lines, fences and metal sheds.
Get out of the water, since water is a great conductor of electricity. In 2010, nearly 25 percent of all lightning fatality victims in the United States were on or near water. Stay off the beach and out of small boats if lightning threatens. Lightning can strike water and travel some distance beneath and away from its point of contact.
if someone is struck by lightning, call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service. Give first aid as quickly as possible. If the victim has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If the person has a pulse and is breathing, address any other injuries. People struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge, and can be examined without risk.
The lightning topic for tomorrow will be on safe shelters and indoor lightning safety.