Summer is Peak Season for Lightning Safety

Summer is the peak season for lightning-related injuries. When planning outdoor activities, know what shelter is available and where to go if you hear thunder.

"Follow the rule, 'when thunder roars, go indoors,'" said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, director of the lightning injury research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

If you can't get indoors, get into a hardtop car, bus, or truck. Never go under a tree. Once inside, stay off landline phones, computers, and video games.

"We are seeing an increasing proportion of people injured indoors using Play Stations and other hard-wired video games, even though they knew to unplug their computers to prevent lightning damage," Cooper said.

Cell phones, iPods, and other wireless devices do not attract lightning, but further distract people from paying attention to the warning signs of thunder and lightning, Copper added.

It's also important to understand how lightning travels and take sensible precautions. "Wait 30 minutes after the last crack of thunder or flash of lightning before resuming activities or driving home," Cooper said.

According to the National Weather Service, there were 28 deaths due to lightning strikes in 2008 and nine so far in 2009. People should "continue to keep up their guard about the danger of lightning injury, particularly as lightning activity peaks during the summer months," Cooper said.

This year, Lightning Awareness Week (June 21-27) is particularly focusing on the number of men who are injured--79 percent of those struck by lightning are men, 36 percent are men between the ages of 20 and 25.

"While we used to see more injuries to farmers at the turn of the century, in recent years, the majority of those injured have been young males during work or recreational activities," Cooper said.

Nearly a third are injured at work. Golf, hiking, running, and other outdoor activities each also take up a share; however, lightning strike deaths are far from the whole story. "About 90 percent of those struck by lightning survive, but they frequently have permanent after effects, which can include chronic pain, brain injury, and thought-processing problems," said Cooper.

More information about lightning and lighting safety is available at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

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