If you’re putting together a stormy weather playlist, you might come across such classics like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Yet as you listen to your tunes, remember that there is a big difference between “Thunderstruck” and lightning struck. In particular, thunder cannot strike anyone; lightning strikes happen all too often with devastating consequences.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which runs the National Weather Service, notes that approximately 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States every year, and during the past 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 49 lightning fatalities annually.
This explains why NOAA designates Lightning Safety Awareness Week in the end of June each year as an opportunity to remind everyone about the perils of these dangerous electrical discharges. And Florida residents should be extra wary when it comes to lightning fatalities. According to NOAA, from 2005 to 2014, the Sunshine State ranked first in the nation in terms of deaths by lightning, with 47 such reported fatalities — more than twice as many as second-ranked Texas, which had 20.
Men account for about 80 percent of lightning deaths in the United States and almost all occur outside. In fact, most victims are engaged in leisure activities, and nearly half of the water-related fatalities are from those fishing. Surprisingly, in the sports-related category, soccer takes the No. 1 spot, not golf.
Most lightning victims are not struck during the worst of a thunderstorm, but rather before or after the storm reaches its greatest intensity. This is, in part, because most people don’t stay outside during the most intense moments of a thunderstorm. However, many people are unaware that lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm, much farther out from the area of rainfall within the storm.
The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings and private residences. If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity and eventually direct it into the ground. If no substantial buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle, such as an automobile, van or school bus, can serve as a suitable alternative.
However, buildings with exposed sides are not safe, even if they are “grounded.” These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well. Additionally, convertible vehicles offer little safety from lightning, even if the top is up. Other vehicles deemed unsafe during thunderstorms are those with open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors and construction equipment.
The best advice comes from the National Weather Service: when thunder roars, go indoors. For more information, visit the NOAA lightning safety page at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.