Tips: Lightning Safety

SUMMER is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena -- lightning. Reducing the risk of being struck by lightning is the focus of national Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 24 to 30.

Lightning is a serious and life-threatening weather phenomenon, responsible for multiple deaths, injuries and massive property destruction throughout the United States. Unfortunately, lightning also is the most under-recognized weather hazard, often commanding little attention from the public and the media.

In 2001, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service launched an annual campaign to increase public awareness of the dangers of lightning. At http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov, you'll learn more about lightning risks and how to protect yourself, others and your belongings.

A few tips from NOAA:

Safe Buildings

A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, such as a home, school, office building or a shopping center. Even inside, you should take precautions. Picnic shelters, dugouts, sheds and other partially open or small structures are not safe.

Enclosed buildings are safe because of wiring and plumbing. If lightning strikes these types of buildings, or an outside telephone pole, the electrical current from the flash will typically travel through the wiring or the plumbing into the ground. This is why you should stay away from showers, sinks, hot tubs and electronic equipment, such as TVs, radios and computers.

Lightning can damage or destroy electronics, so it's important to have a proper lightning protection system connected to your electronic equipment.

Unsafe Buildings

Examples of buildings which are unsafe include car ports, covered but open garages, covered patio, picnic shelters, beach shacks/pavilions, golf shelters, camping tents, large outdoor tents, baseball dugouts and other small buildings such as sheds and greeenhouses that do not have electricity or plumbing.

Safe Vehicles

A safe vehicle is a hard-topped car, SUV, minivan, bus, tractor, etc. (soft-topped convertibles are not safe). If you seek shelter in your vehicle, make sure all doors are closed and windows rolled up. Do not touch any metal surfaces.

If you're driving when a thunderstorm starts, pull off the roadway. A lightning flash hitting the vehicle could startle you and cause temporary blindness, especially at night.

Do not use electronic devices such as HAM radios or cell phones during a thunderstorm. Lightning striking the vehicle, especially the antennas, could cause serious injury if you are talking on the radio or holding the microphone at the time of the flash. Emergency officials such as police officers, firefighters, security officers, etc., should use extreme caution using radio equipment when lightning is in the area.

Your vehicle and its electronics may be damaged if hit by lightning. Vehicles struck by lightning are known to have flat tires the next day. This occurs because the lightning punctures tiny holes in the tires. Vehicles have caught fire after being struck by lightning.

Bolts from the Blue

There are times when a lightning flash can travel horizontally many miles away from the thunderstorm cloud itself and then strike the ground. These types of lightning flashes are called "Bolts from the Blue" because they seem to come out of a clear blue sky. Although these flashes are rare, they have been known to cause fatalities. It is a good idea to wait 30 minutes or more after the rain ends before resuming outdoor activities.

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