Surprising facts about lightning safety

Each year, dozens are killed by lightning in the U.S.
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 1:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - June 20 to 26 is lightning safety awareness week in 2021. NBC12 is on your side with facts and tips to stay safe from lightning.

In the last 10 years, an average of 26 people have been killed by lightning each year. Historically, those numbers were much higher. Improved education about lightning safety is likely the main reason for the decline in lightning deaths in recent years.

So far in 2021, two people have reportedly been killed by lightning in the U.S.- an elderly man who was golfing in New Jersey and a girl who was swimming near Tybee Island, South Carolina. These deaths are a tragic reminder of the danger of lightning.

Most lightning deaths each year happen in the summer months (July is #1) because that’s when thunderstorms are most common and the time of year people spend the most time outdoors. The majority of lightning deaths happen while people are participating in outdoor recreational activities.

According to a 2019 National Lightning Safety Council study, fishing is the most common leisure activity people are doing when struck by lightning, followed by being at the beach, camping, boating, biking, soccer, and golf.

Summer is the most dangerous time for lightning deaths because it's when thunderstorms are most...
Summer is the most dangerous time for lightning deaths because it's when thunderstorms are most frequent and people spend the most time outdoors.(WWBT)

The most important rule of thumb to remember to stay safe from lightning is “when thunder roars, go indoors!” If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. In rare occasions, lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles from a storm. These are called “bolts from the blue” because there can be blue sky overhead as lightning strikes from a nearby thunderstorm.

It is never safe to be outdoors when lightning is nearby. Avoid planning outdoor activities when thunderstorms are possible. If the weather becomes threatening or you receive a notification on the NBC12 weather app about approaching thunderstorms, go indoors immediately. Many people are struck by lightning while in the process of going to safe shelter, but they did not end their outdoor activities soon enough. Small outdoor buildings with no plumbing including dugouts, rain shelters, sheds, etc., are NOT safe and provide NO protection.

When thunder roars, go indoors!
When thunder roars, go indoors!(WWBT)

Go indoors to a sturdy building with plumbing and stay there until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder. A hard topped vehicle is also safe from lightning because the metal cage protects people inside (it has nothing to do with rubber tires). Once inside, stay off corded phones and don’t use anything plugged into a wall or plumbing until the storm passes.

A "bolt from the blue" happens when a lightning bolt from a nearby thunderstorm strikes away...
A "bolt from the blue" happens when a lightning bolt from a nearby thunderstorm strikes away from the storm cloud. Sometimes skies are still blue overhead when the lightning strikes! (Credit: National Weather Service)

A frequent question we are asked is “what should I do if I’m stuck outside with no safe shelter in a thunderstorm?” The goal should be to never put yourself in that situation. Especially with advances in technology and smart phones, you should be weather aware and know how long it will take to get to safe shelter (a car or building). If you are away from shelter and a thunderstorm is approaching, continue moving toward safe shelter as fast as possible while staying low to the ground and avoiding open areas such as fields or ridgelines according to the National Weather Service.

If you remember these tips, you can stay safe from lightning while still having fun this summer.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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