Lightning safety awareness week: how to stay safe in a thunderstorm

When thunder roars, go indoors. No place outdoors is safe from lightning.

Lightning safety awareness week: how to stay safe in a thunderstorm
Lightning is one of mother nature's killers. When thunder roars, go indoors. (Source: WWBT)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It’s that time of the year when summertime heat and humidity causes thunderstorms across Virginia, which brings one of nature’s killers: lightning.

June 21 to June 27, 2020 is Lightning Safety Awareness week, which began in 2001 to bring attention to the threat thunderstorms pose each year. July is the most deadly time for lightning strikes in the U.S., with 70% of all lightning deaths happening in June, July, and August. These months have the most lightning strikes and also a large number of people enjoying time outdoors.

Men account for 80% of all lightning fatalities - this is likely due to their behavior. Men may engage in outdoor activities more often than women, may not be aware of the lightning danger, may ignore the risk, or some combination of these factors.

In 2001, there were an average of 50 people per year struck and killed by lightning, but today that’s dropped to less than 30 deaths per year. Increased education on lightning safety is likely the main reason for this reduced death rate.

Lightning deaths have dropped steadily since the first Lightning Safety Awareness week in 2001.
Lightning deaths have dropped steadily since the first Lightning Safety Awareness week in 2001. (Source: National Weather Service)

Even after taking into account the reduction in deaths, lightning remains the 3rd most deadly type of weather in the U.S.

The most important thing to remember to stay safe from lightning is this simple saying: ‘When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors'. No place outdoors is safe from lightning.

It often takes time to stop outdoor activities and return to safe shelter, which is why it's very important to head indoors or to a car at the first sign of threatening weather.
It often takes time to stop outdoor activities and return to safe shelter, which is why it's very important to head indoors or to a car at the first sign of threatening weather. (Source: WWBT)

In the last 20 years, most lightning deaths have happened while people were enjoying recreational activities outdoors. The activity people were most often doing when struck and killed by lightning was fishing.

Fishing, being at the beach, camping, and boating are likely more dangerous in part because it takes extra time to return to safe shelter when a storm approaches. People are often struck by lightning while in the process of wrapping up activities and heading toward shelter, but they did not end their outdoor activities quickly enough. In some cases they were just steps from safe shelter when struck. That’s why it’s important to head to safe shelter at the first sign of threatening weather - when you see lightning or hear thunder. Lightning can strike when it’s not raining, up to 10 or 15 miles away from a thunderstorm.

People are most often struck and killed by lightning while fishing in the U.S. since 2006.
People are most often struck and killed by lightning while fishing in the U.S. since 2006. (Source: National Lightning Safety Council)

A few more tips to keep in mind to stay safe from lightning as we enter the summer storm season:

1. Plan ahead. Do not put yourself in a position where you are far from safe shelter if thunderstorm chances are in the forecast. Know where you would go for safety and how long it will take to return to your safe place. If there’s a chance for thunderstorms in the forecast and you cannot return to safety quickly, postpone or cancel your outdoor plans. The NBC12 First Alert Weather App is a great tool to help you plan your day.

2. Do not wait to seek shelter if the sky turns threatening. As soon as you hear thunder, it is time to cancel/postpone outdoor activities and immediately head to safe shelter.

3. Sturdy buildings and hard topped vehicles such as cars are the only safe places from lightning. No place outside is safe from lightning. Picnic shelters, trees, tents, portable restrooms, baseball dugouts, etc. are NOT safe from lightning.

4. Wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to go back outside. Just as lightning can strike miles ahead of a storm, lightning can also strike behind it.

5. Once indoors, stay off corded phones, stay out of the shower, and don’t use a computer until the storm passes. Anything that is plugged into a wall outlet or attached to plumbing is risky because if a lightning bolt strikes the building or nearby, it could send an electric charge through wiring or plumbing and injure anyone touching it. Cell phones are safe.

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