Thunder and Lightning

August 19, 2014

Connecticut has had some wicked summer weather this year. Heavy rains, high winds, a tornado, and a lot of thunder and lightning. You probably think that you will never be injured by lightning.  However, last week, 13 people were injured and one person died from a lightning strike at a beach in California. In 2008, a young man was killed at Hammonassett Beach, while several others were injured. Every year, across the nation, people are killed or permanently injured by lightning. The National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NWSNOAA) advises “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” Lightning is a serious danger and should not be ignored.

 The NWSNOAA website provides information on weather safety (http://www.weather.gov/safety). Their goal is to safeguard U.S. residents from lightning and other weather hazards. The information that follows is taken from their website.

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning. But don't be fooled, lightning strikes year round. Hundreds of people are permanently injured each year. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more. 80% of lightning fatalities are men who did not seek shelter from an approaching storm, but instead kept on fishing, boating, golfing, biking or working outdoors.

If you hear thunder, you are not safe anywhere outside. Run to a safe building or vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning or observe dark threatening clouds developing overhead. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder. Do not shelter under trees.

Lightning: Fact or Fiction

FICTION: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.

FACT: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.

FICTION: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.

FACT: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.

FICTION: People struck by lightning should not be touched because they carry an electrical charge.

FACT: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. FICTION: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
FACT: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

FICTION: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, you should lie flat on the ground.
FACT: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Coaches need to pay attention to the skies: Your little league team has an evening game at the local recreational park. The weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, with a chance of thunderstorms by early evening. When you arrive at the park, you notice the only safe buildings are the restrooms. Shortly after sunset, the sky gets cloudy and you see bright flashes in the sky. What should you do? Get everyone into vehicles or the restrooms. Do NOT stay in the dugouts; they are not safe during lightning activity. Once in a safe place, wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before resuming play.

At the Beach or the Lake: Your family plans to go to the beach today. The weather forecast calls for a nice morning followed by a 30 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. When you get to the beach, you see that the only nearby structures are open-sided picnic shelters. The parking lot is a 5 minute walk from the beach. By early afternoon skies are darkening and hear distant thunder. What should you do? Go to your car! Do NOT seek shelter under the beach picnic shelters. Wait 30 minutes until after the last rumble of thunder before going back to the beach.

Camping and Other Wilderness Activities: You are cooking dinner on the camp stove when you hear distant rumbles of thunder. Your tent and a large open sided picnic shelter are nearby. Your vehicle is about quarter of a mile away parked at the trail head. What should you do? Go to your vehicle! The tent and picnic shelter are NOT a safe places. Wait 30 minutes until after the last rumble of thunder before going back to the campsite.

Lightning Safety Plans: Lifeguards, coaches, camp leaders and outdoor recreational supervisors need to be aware of the weather. A lightning safety plan should be developed and implemented when a storm approaches. Lightning safety plans should specify that someone be designated to monitor the weather for lightning. The ‘lightning monitor’ should not be the coach, umpire, or referee, since they busy doing other things and can’t adequately monitor conditions.  The ‘lightning monitor’ must know the plan’s guidelines and be empowered to follow the guidelines.

Seeking Safe Shelter: No place OUTSIDE is safe in or near a thunderstorm. Stop what you are doing and get to a safe place immediately. Small outdoor buildings including dugouts, rain shelters, sheds, etc., are NOT SAFE. Substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing are the safest places. Office buildings, schools, and homes offer good protection. Once inside, stay away from windows and doors and anything that conducts electricity such as corded phones, wiring, plumbing, and anything connected to these. A hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows closed also provides good protection. Avoid contact with metal in the vehicle and try to keep away from windows.

What if a safe location in NOT nearby? If you absolutely can't get to safety, this section may help you slightly lessen the threat of being struck by lightning while outside. Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top; Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees; If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting; Stay away from water, wet items (such as ropes) and metal objects (such as fences and poles). Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.  

Getting help for lightning victims: Most victims can survive a lightning strike; however, medical attention may be needed immediately. Call 911 for medical help. Victims do not carry an electrical charge. In many cases, the victim’s heart or breathing may have stopped. CPR or an AED may be needed to revive them. If possible, move the victim to a safer place away from the threat of another lightning strike.

For an information packet on lightning, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 or request on line, www.qvhd.org