It’s Lightning Safety Awareness week and there’s no better time to get prepared. Based on data from the last 30 years from the National Weather Service, lightning has killed more than 1500 people in the US, an average of 51 people per year. In addition during the same period, lightning has injured an estimated 15,000 people, some left with life long neurological damage. In the last 10 years, Maine has seen 4 deaths, making int the 6th highest in the nation per capita.
The best protection from lightning is a substantial building. If you can’t get inside, a hard topped metal vehicle will protect you from lightning. If the vehicle is struck, the lightning will follow the outer metal shell of the vehicle to the ground. It’s important to make sure the you’re fully inside the vehicle with the windows rolled up. A side note, the rubber tires do not prevent the vehicle from being struck, nor do they provide any protection.
The same is true of airplanes. It’s estimated on average, each plane in the US commercial feet is struck by lighting more than once each year. Passengers may see a flash or hear a loud noise if lightning strikes, but nothing serious should happen because of the lightning protection engineered into the aircraft and components.
If you’re outside when a thunderstorm is in the area, you’re at risk of being struck by lightning. However, there are some activities that lead to more lightning deaths and injuries than others.
In the past eight years, leisure activities let to almost 2/3 of the lightning fatalities in the US. Water related activities, and particularly fishing, contributed most to the fatalities. Since 2006, 30 people who had been fishing dies as a result of lightning. Boating and beach activities also contributed significantly to the death toll. In most cases, victims simply waited far too long before starting to seek shelter.
When it comes to water related activities, there are several important things to remember.
- Always have a plan so that you can get to a safe place before the storm arrives
- Head to that safe place immediately if you see any signs of a developing or approaching thunderstorm. Don’t hesitate.
Since 2006, sports activities (golf, soccer, running, baseball, football) contributed to 29 lightning deaths in the US. In many cases, those involved in the activities failed to realize the developing danger.
Between 2006 and 2013, 38 people were struck an dkilled by lightning in the uS while at work. About 2/3 of those killed were farmers, ranchers, roofers, lawn care workers, or construction workers. Many of those killed were seekign shelter at the time of the deadly strike, but just hadn’t started soon enough.
Although houses and other substantial buildings offer the best protection from lightning, each year many homes across the United Stages are struck. In fact, on average, lightning causes about 4400 house fires and 1800 other structural fires each year, some of which are deadly. All totaled, lightning causes nearly $1 billion in damages each year. There are three main ways lightning enters homes and buildings.
- a direct strike
- through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure
- through the ground
Indoor safety depends on avoiding contact with items that could conduct lightning within a home. Here are some indoor safety tips to follow.
- Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.
- Stay off corded phones.
- Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, take a shower, wash dishes, or do laundry.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches
Maine and New Hampshire are a playground for our door activities. Everything from hiking, boating,fishing, to sports are popular activities throughout the summer months. As we enter into the peak activity for severe thunderstorms in the coming month, it’s important to keep lightning safety in mind. Thanks to John Jensenious (The Lightning Man) from NWS Gray for compiling all these statistics. You can read more on his lightning research and outreach/education here.