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A Number Of Hazards Expected Today

A number of hazards are expected across the U.S. today. Severe thunderstorms are expected in the Upper Mississippi Valley and from Missouri to the Carolinas. Widespread critical fire weather conditions are likely from the Southwest to south-central High Plains. Flood watches are in effect for parts of Hawaii and Alaska. Finally, record heat persists in the Southern U.S. Read More >

Did you know that lightning strikes the United States around 25 million times per year?

Did you know that on average, nearly 50 people in the US die from lightning every year?

Even though we at the National Weather Service do not issue lightning watches and warnings, it can still have a severe impact on life and property, especially in the summer months when thunderstorm activity is at its highest. So far this year, there have already been 17 lightning deaths across the country, and we are only about half of the way through the meteorological summer. That puts us on pace for around 35 lightning deaths, which is below a the thirty year average of 49, but would quite a jump up from the gradually decreasing trend in lightning deaths that we have seen in the last decade.  Even in the northern portions of the US, it's imperative that you take lightning safety seriously. Last year, nearly 12% of the lightning deaths in the US occurred in Wisconsin (3 out of 26).

Graph from Harold Brooks @hebrooks87. We're doing much better at avoiding lightning deaths than we were in the mid-1900's, but at the rate at which people are being killed this year, we could see the highest fatality count since 2007.

 

So, what can you do to stay safe? To know that, it's important to first know how you can be struck so you can avoid those situations.

You can be struck by lightning via:

  • Direct strike: When a person is struck by lightning without hitting anything else. A direct strike is relatively uncommon, by is potentially the most deadly.
  • Side flash: When lightning strikes and object, like a tree, and the current jumps from the object to the person. A more common means by which people are struck by lightning.
  • Ground current: When lightning strikes the ground and the electricity spreads outward, potentially passing into anyone or anything in the vicinity. The most deaths and injuries come from ground current.
  • Conduction. When lightning travels through a conductive material, like electrical wires or metal plumbing in a house.

That brings us to the safety tips. The most important thing to remember is that no place outside is safe during a lightning storm. If you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, and you should immediately seek shelter in a substantial building or metal-topped vehicle. Just remember the phrase "When thunder roars, go indoors", and stay there for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder. Once you're inside, you should avoid contact any devices with a direct connection to utility electricity, avoid plumbing, and stay away from windows and doors.

What if you're stuck outside? How can you stay safe then? Simply put, you can't. Again, no place outside is safe during a thunderstorm. That said, if you are stuck outside, there are a few things you can do that may reduce your risk.

  • Immediately get off of elevated areas.
  • Never lie flat on the ground; that creates more surface area for ground current to travel through.
  • Never take shelter underneath an isolated tree.
  • Don't use a cliff or a rocky overhang as shelter.
  • Immediately get out of and away from bodies of water.
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity like metal fences.

Herzog