Keep Your Family Safe From Lightning This Summer

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Just this morning Hubby called me from work to say that there was a massive storm on the way. I was grateful for the warning and got everything battened down in time (don’t ask me about the LAST storm, in which a certain someone hadn’t anchored the trampoline…we’re still fixing up the damage). The lightning was somewhat impressive, and we enjoyed it from the safety of the house.

The storm was timely, as I just had the opportunity to interview John Jensenius, the National Weather Service’s lightning expert. He has some timely advice for all of us. Did you know that:

  • Most lightning victims are close to safe shelter but wait to long to get there.
  • about 34% are outside, far from safe shelter, engaging in activities like bicycling, hiking, camping, and fishing, common family activities for the summer months.
  • Over 60% of lightning fatalities happen when people are engaged in leisure activities.
  • Lightning injuries often leave victims with serious life-long disabilities, depression, job loss, and family break-ups.
  • 80% of lightning victims are male. Men will make better choices if they believe their actions will have an impact on their families. Social science shows that women are influential in getting the men in their lives to make smart choices when it comes to health and safety.

I had no idea about the 80% male victim thing, but it doesn’t surprise me. Boys!

Here’s what I asked and learned from John.

1. What warning signs would you suggest people attend to in deciding whether to seek shelter?
The sound of thunder — even a distant rumble — should be considered a warning to get inside immediately. Lightning can strike outward about 10 miles from the rain area of a thunderstorm which is about the distance that you can hear thunder. If you hear thunder, there’s a good chance that you’re within striking distance of the storm. Other signs are darkening skies during the day and, of course, lightning. If you know that thunderstorms are in the forecast and skies start to darken, head to safety.

Don’t wait for the first flash of lightning. Keep in mind that every developing thunderstorm has a first flash of lightning…and it is just as deadly as any other lightning strike during the storm. Safe shelters include substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing, and hard-topped metal vehicles.

2. Our soccer team policy is to call off practice/game if we see lightning more than once in 30 minutes. Is that a standard you agree with? (Editor’s note: I didn’t ask this question as well as I could have: we stop all play if lightning is witnessed and wait 30 minutes. If more is seen, we cancel.)

You should cancel or postpone an event immediately if you hear ANY thunder or see any nearby lightning. Developing storms typically start with in-cloud lightning before the cloud-to-ground lightning develops. Any rumbling or crackling aloft is a definite indication that charges are building up aloft. If people just followed our simple saying, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” most fatalities would be avoided. Once inside, wait 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning before returning outside.

3. Are pets in danger of lightning strikes the same way as humans?
Yes. In fact, most people that are struck by lightning are likely struck by what is called the ground current. When lightning strikes an object such as a tree or just the ground, the electricity spreads out along the ground surfaces. The greater the span in contact points (usually feet), the greater the chances of death or injury. Large pets have greater spans between their feet than people and are more vulnerable to the ground current. In addition, some pet owners have their pets on runners and/or chains which may be tied to a tree. If lightning strikes the tree it can follow the runner/chain to the animal. In addition, a chain lying on the ground is more vulnerable to ground current from a nearby lightning strike.

4. Are there times of year when lightning is more likely to strike?
The peak in lightning activity across the U.S. usually occurs in July when heat and humidity reach a peak across the U.S. This is also the peak in outdoor summertime activities. The combination of outdoor activities and lightning can be deadly. Consequently, July is also the deadliest month of the year for lightning strikes. It’s worth noting though that lightning can occur at any time of the year in just about any state of the country — even during well-developed snow storms.

5. What are your top three recommendations for families to stay safe in thunderstorms when they’re out at a leisure activity?

  • 1. Always have a plan so that you can get to a safe place if a thunderstorm threatens.
  • 2. If you have an outdoor activity planned, always check the latest forecast before going out and consider cancelling or postponing the activity if thunderstorms are forecast.
  • 3. If outside and you hear thunder, get to a safe place immediately and stay there for 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder.

Thanks so much, John!

Stay safe, Heroes.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to stay safe in storms.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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