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Paramedic's Corner: Lightning is a dangerous and deadly threat
Paramedic's Corner: Lightning is a dangerous and deadly threat

Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
June 21 is the official start of summer. The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and the National Weather Service (NWS) have designated the week of June 21 to 27 for the Summer Severe Weather campaign. This Summer Weather Safety Campaign focuses on heat, lightning, flood safety and weather radio information to keep people safe during the peak vacation and outdoor recreation season.

Lightning, an Underrated Problem

According to statistics kept by the National Weather Service, the 30-year average for lightning fatalities across the country is 61 deaths per year. Lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time, and because lightning does not cause mass destruction, such as from a tornado event or a hurricane, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive storm-related events. Due to underreporting, it is estimated that more realistically, about 100 to 120 people die each year because of lightning. Documented lightning injuries in the United States average 300 per year, but undocumented lightning injuries are likely much higher.

In Missouri, there have been 88 deaths attributed to lightning from 1959 to 2006, an average of two deaths per year. This is right behind the average of three deaths per year caused by tornadoes. Missouri ranks 21st nationally in lightning deaths per state.

Lightning Safety Awareness - An Educational Problem

While many people think they are aware of the dangers of lightning, the vast majority are not. Lightning can strike as much as 10 miles away from the rain area of a thunderstorm. That's about the distance that you are able to hear the thunder from the storm. While virtually all people take some protective actions during the most dangerous part of thunderstorms, many leave themselves vulnerable to being struck by lightning as thunderstorms approach, depart, or are nearby. Although some victims are struck directly by the lightning discharge, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

Where are people when lightning incidents occur? The statistics below give a breakdown.

Gender of Victims: 84% male, 16% female
Months of Most Incidents: 21% June, 30% July, 22% August

Lightning Safety Outdoors

Here are some key tips to remember when caught outside during a thunderstorm:

• Remember, lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the rain area. Go quickly inside a completely enclosed building before the storm arrives. Do not go to a carport, open garage, covered patio or open window. A hard-topped all-metal vehicle also provides good protection.

• If no shelter is available, do not take shelter under a tree. Avoid being the tallest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, crouch down on the balls of your feet in the open, keeping twice as far away from a tree as it is tall.

• Get out of the water, off the beach, and out of small boats or canoes. Avoid standing in puddles of water even if wearing rubber boots.

• Do not use metal objects such as golf clubs, metal bats, fishing rods, or metal tools.

• Stop tractor work and heavy construction equipment, especially when pulling metal equipment.

Lightning Safety Indoors

If you are indoors during a thunderstorm, the best advice is to stay there. But there are also other steps that should be taken to reduce risk.

• The best protection from lightning is a house or other substantial building. However, stay away from windows, doors, and metal pipes.

• Do not use electric appliances during the storm. Turn off sensitive equipment such as televisions, VCR's, and computers.

• Telephone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States. Do not make a call unless it is an emergency.

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