Severe Weather Handbook Topic 5: Lightning Safety

Weather

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – In conjunction with Severe Weather Awareness Week, the StormTracker 13 meteorologists toss out a number: 159,353. That’s the number of cloud to ground lightning strikes that actually took place in the Mountain State in 2018 according to lightning tracking company VAISALA.

Of course we serve Ohio and Kentucky too so not to leave anyone out, the Buckeye State saw 365,476 cloud to ground lightning strikes while the Bluegrass State was struck 502,715 times in 2018.

That’s a lot of hazards that we hope to avoid during thunderstorm season.  While most times the bolts never strike people they do on occasion and they more often hit buildings and other structures.  The difference is, those buildings are designed to channel the lightning to the ground while we humans are not.  Lightning catches us out and about quite often and it can mean making a split-second decision on what to do.

Lightning safety info – NWS image

On average, 27 people die in lightning strikes in the United States and some 243 more are injured according to the National Weather Service as of 2019.  Again, most of the issues center around the fact that people are already outdoors when a storm comes and most of the deaths fall under the category of outdoor leisure.

It’s easy to say, simply move indoors when thunder roars, but many times people are in a setting that takes some time to move away from.

Many sports leagues and conferences now have very strict rules about what you need to do when lightning is within so-many miles of a location. Games are often delayed before the storms even get there which is the idea so more people can move to safety.

So what DO you do and NOT do? Here’s a list from NWS:

Outdoors: What You Need to Know

  • NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
  • When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
  • Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

Indoor Lightning Safety

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips

If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

The Stormtracker 13 Weather App will alert you to cloud-to-ground lightning within 15 miles of your location. Lightning may not hit your area but constantly monitoring this wide circle around you gives you plenty of time to check the radar and investigate the situation so you can make informed decisions with the idea of having a safe outcome to your day. The app is free and you can download it here. Just enable alerts and location services within the Saf-T-Net Alert portion of the app.

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