Dangerous Lightning: Staying safe during thunderstorms

Dangerous Lightning: Staying safe during thunderstorms

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - When thunder roars, go indoors is not just a catchy phrase. It is your best bet to stay safe during dangerous lightning. Yet each year, lightning kills an average of 49 people in the U.S. On average, lightning strikes kill one in every 10 people struck. The remaining victims are lucky to survive, but they often suffer from an array of long-term, often debilitating symptoms.

The U.S. is in the middle of its peak lightning months and as of July 22, 22 deaths have already been reported nationwide, three in Alabama alone.

Many of this year's lightning victims, ranging from age 12 to 81, were simply enjoying typical summer activities - hiking, fishing, volleyball, camping - when they died.

The safest place to be during a thunderstorm, even when you hear a low distant rumble, is indoors. Even 'heat lightning,' which is really just lightning from a distant thunderstorm that is too far away or too obscured to see, can be just as dangerous as lightning from a storm you can see.

UAH professor and lightning physicist Dr. Phillip Bitzer says he has actually studied a strike where lightning actually started near Guntersville and came to ground somewhere around New Market - nearly 35 miles away.

Don't use a corded phone except in an emergency, keep away from electrical equipment and wiring, and don't take a bath or shower or use other plumbing during a storm. And be sure to stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder,

Sheds, picnic shelters, tents or covered porches do NOT protect you from lightning. If a sturdy building is not nearby, get into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the windows.

If you are caught outdoors with no way to seek shelter indoors or in a car, there are some tips to minimize your risk of being struck: avoid open fields and the tops of hills. Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in the woods, stay near a lower stand of trees. Stay away from water, wet items and metal objects.

If you are in a group, spread out. This increases the chance for survivors who could come to the aid of any victims from a strike. Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge, are safe to touch, and need urgent medical attention. Lightning often causes heart attacks. Once you and the victim have moved to a safer location, if they don't have a pulse, immediately performing CPR may prevent death.

Of course, if thunderstorms are in the forecast, have the WAFF weather app handy. It can alert you to impending severe weather. Plus, it can let you know if lightning is detected nearby your current location.

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