August, 2007 Lightning Deaths in Madison - Let’s Talk Safety!

Lightning was either directly or indirectly responsible for four fatalities in Madison during August, 2007.   On August 22nd three people, while standing in a few inches of water at a bus stop, were electrocuted by the current from a power-line that was brought down by a lightning bolt.  On August 27th, a man was directly killed by a lightning strike while standing under a pine tree on a golf course as thunderstorms rolled through.  


These tragic deaths remind us that we need to review some basic lightning safety tips, and we should try to educate our loved ones, relatives, and friends about the danger of lightning.  


Yes, the exact spot that lightning will occur is unpredictable, but for the most part, it is associated with thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms are not good at hiding themselves – you can easily see them developing off in the distance; and once they start to approach they do a good jog of announcing their arrival with darker skies, lightning, thunder, and rain.  Even when the storm is miles away from your location, you will usually be able to hear the thunder.  Additionally, thunderstorms, are mentioned in various weather forecasts when they are possible or likely within the next few days.  Therefore, no one should ever be surprised about the occurrence of thunderstorms. 


Keep in mind that the thunderstorm doesn’t have to be directly overhead in order for you to get hit by lightning.   Lightning has been documented to travel 5 to 15 miles away from the parent thunderstorm and strike the ground.   Therefore the sky can be blue or clear overhead, and you can still get struck by lightning!  If you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to get hit by lightning. 


In Wisconsin , from 1982 through 2006, twenty-one people have been directly killed by lightning (about one per year), and an additional 184 have been directly injured (about 7 per year).  It is quite likely that these numbers are on the low side, especially for injures. 


Learn more about lightning at these web sites: 


Here are some safety tips: 


  • 30/30 rule – if the time between lightning and thunder is 30 seconds or less, go to a safe shelter.  Stay there until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
  • No place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area.  Seek shelter inside an enclosed building.  Plan your outdoor activities to avoid thunderstorms.  Check the latest weather forecast before heading outdoors.
  • If there’s no enclosed building, go to a low-lying, open place away from tall, isolated trees, poles or metal objects.  Seek a place that is not subject to flash flooding.
  • Do not seek shelter in a partially enclosed place such as park shelters, dugouts, or tents.
  • If you are outdoors with thunderstorms approaching or overhead, and feel your hair on your head stand up on ends, there is a good chance that you will get struck by lightning.  Immediately maker yourself a smaller target by squatting  down into a baseball catcher’s position, on the balls of your feet, and place your index fingertips into your ears to protect them.  If lightning does strike nearby, you increase your chances of surviving by taking this position, and also prevent your eardrums from being ruptured.
  •  If boating or swimming, get to land and find a sturdy shelter. 
  • Inside a building, avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances and stay away from showers, sinks, hot tubs and any other plumbing.
  • Stay away from windows and glass doors – debris generated by lightning strikes can easily break windows and injure you.
  • Don’t stand in water that has collected in low areas or on roads during an on-going thunderstorm.  Water is an excellent conductor of electricity.  Should a nearby, toppled power-line touch the water, you can be electrocuted.

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