Before lightning strikes, make sure you're safe

Before lightning strikes, make sure you're safe
Safety First

POSTED: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 12:45pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 12:49pm

This time of year, many of us are outside enjoying the weather, but when afternoon thunderstorms begin to develop, conditions can become dangerous - especially if there is lightning.

The safest place to be when you see lightning is out of water, in a sturdy building, and away from windows. If outdoors and no building is nearby, then crouch down as low as you can on the balls of your feet, place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees, make yourself the smallest target possible, and minimize your contact with the ground. Do not lie flat on the ground or take shelter under a tree or metal shelter.

The National Weather Service or NWS recommends, "When the thunder rolls, go indoors." If you are close enough to hear the thunder, then you are close enough to be struck by lightning."

When indoors, unplug appliances and other electrical items, such as computers or televisions. If you are unable to unplug them, then turn them off. The NWS also recommends staying off landline phones and other electronic equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity or plumbing. You should avoid bathing, doing laundry, or washing dishes. 

After the storm has ended, postpone your outdoor plans for another 30 minutes. Lightning can strike up 10-50 miles from a single thunderstorm. Over 400 people are struck by lightning and an average of 55-60 people die from lightning strikes annually.

If a person is struck by lightning, call 9-1-1 and get medical care immediately. Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge; attend to them immediately. Check their breathing, heartbeat, and pulse. CPR may be needed. 

Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.

What makes lightning so dangerous? Its unpredictable nature. Scientists have not yet understood how to predict where lightning will strike and when. Lightning puts off heat to over 5 times than the surface of the sun in less than a second and because the air is heated very quickly, it causes a loud "boom," which we call "thunder." The circumference of the bolt is only about the thickness of a pencil, but it appears much thicker because of the bright flash. It can occur between the cloud and the ground, other clouds, within a cloud or cloud to air. For obvious reasons, lightning between the cloud and ground is the most dangerous. 

Outside of thunderstorms, it has been seen in volcanic eruptions, forest fires, surface nuclear detonations, heavy snowstorms, and in large hurricanes.

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