July 13, 2015 — At this writing, 17 people have died from lightning strikes in the United States this year. The National Weather Service (NWS) has stressed that all of these deaths were “avoidable” with most victims being just steps away from a safe place. The NWS says the death count is disturbing for another reason, too, as the number of deaths is double the average number of year-to-date lightning fatalities (8.8) over the past five years (2010-2014).
Why the reason for the increased number of lightning fatalities? No none knows for sure, but there is a common thread that links most lightning injuries and deaths; and that thread is behavior. Because lightning is the force of nature that most people experience, most of the time, apathy about the risk leads to risky behavior. It’s human nature to want to finish the yard work, catch the next fish, walk the dog on schedule, or continue the volleyball game, despite the darkening skies and brewing storm. Unfortunately, these ordinary, everyday activities end up being the risky behavior that sets the stage for the vast majority of lightning deaths and injuries.
Since there is no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm, you’d think lightning safety would be as easy as, “When thunder roars, go indoors!” Unfortunately, safety gets complicated by the myths and misconceptions that abound about lightning; including dangerous ideas like:
“Rubber soles help protect you from lightning.”
“Lying flat on the ground or assuming the lightning crouch position will keep you safe during a storm.”
“Standing under a tree is safer than being out in the open.”
“Lightning is only attracted by metal, so I’m safe if put my cell phone away.”
“Lightning only strikes the tallest objects.”
“I’m safe if I don’t see clouds or rain.”
Unfortunately, the above misconceptions are still circulating among the masses, hence still putting people at risk.
Oscar Wilde is known for having said, “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
The pure and simple truth about lightning safety is that it’s simple, yet inconvenient. It’s inconvenient to change your plans if the weather forecasts calls for thunderstorms. It’s inconvenient to interrupt the best golf game of your life to seek safe shelter (enclosed building, car or sturdy structure), from the threatening skies. It’s inconvenient to wait 30 minutes for a storm to pass before heading outside again. (And, on a personal note, it was inconvenient for me to shutdown my computer and interrupt this blog post while I waited for an afternoon storm to pass through my area! )
So now that we understand and admit the “inconvenient truth” about lightning safety, how do we change the behavior to end the preventable injuries and deaths? We enlighten, we remind and we continue to nag the folks about the underrated dangers of lightning!
The Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) Team is urging Ambassador organizations to engage their members and stakeholders to stress the dangers of lightning. So why not “Be a Force of Nature” this summer? Join LPI in the lightning safety conversation. Please share these resources and key messages to help build lightning safe communities across the country!
Call to action: Join the conversation using hashtags: #LightningSafety #SummerSafety*
Main NWS Lightning Safety Website:
Shortened URL: bit.ly/NWSlightning
Understanding Lightning: http://1.usa.gov/1FCBomY
LPI Lightning Safety Resources: https://lightning.org/lsa-week/
WRN Key Messages to Share:
* Lightning deaths are already double those than at this time last year.
* ALL of these deaths were avoidable.
* There is no safe place outside. You must go inside a sturdy building or get ina hard-topped car with the windows rolled up.
* As soon as you can hear thunder or see lightning you are in danger.
* Do NOT seek shelter under a tree!
* Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm.
* Don’t WAIT… When thunder roars, go indoors!
Remember to plan your activities so you don’t get caught outside in a thunderstorm. If there are thunderstorms in the forecast, make sure you can quickly get to a safe shelter or reschedule the outdoor activity.