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August 26, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Lightning Vs. You . . . Lightning Wins

Lightning is one of the most (if not the most) underrated weather phenomenon given that most of us get more worked up over tornadoes and hurricanes than thunderstorms. But did you know more than 400 people in the U.S. are struck by lightning each year and on average between 55-60 are killed? In an average year, lightning kills about the same number of people as tornadoes and more people than hurricanes in the U.S.

 

6 of the fatalities occurred when the victim was near or under a tree. Image: NWS

 

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always been scared of lightning. But a lot of times even I underestimate how dangerous it is. If you’re outside and hear thunder, you should seek shelter immediately in a substantial building or hard-topped metal vehicle.

Remember there’s no such thing as a safe place outside during a thunderstorm. I realize there may be times when you’re unable to reach a safe place so you should get to a low-lying area as soon as possible.  Avoid hills, mountain ridges and peaks. Avoid open areas as you don’t want to be the tallest object in the area (lightning tends to strike the taller objects in an area), but you also want to stay away from isolated trees and utility poles. Stay away from objects that can conduct electricity, such as barbed wire fences and power lines. If you’re in or near a body of water, get out and away from it immediately.

If you’re outside and you start to feel your skin tingle or your hair stands up, a lightning strike may be about to happen. The best thing to do is crouch down on the balls of your feet with your feet close together. Keep your hands on your knees and lower your head. Get as low as possible without touching your hands or knees to the ground. Don’t seek shelter under a tree. Note the caption for the image above.

The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 3,000 (in any one year, 1 in 7,000). Photo: NWS

If you’re with someone who’s struck by lightning you should act fast. Call 9-1-1 for help and immediately give the person CPR if they’re unresponsive or not breathing. It’s safe to touch lightning victims as they don’t carry an electrical charge, but they do need urgent medical attention. If more than one person is struck, be sure to treat those who are unconscious first as they are at greatest risk for death. Common injuries from being struck by lightning include burns and fractures.

Officials in India said on Wednesday that at least 25 people were killed by lightning in the eastern Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand as monsoon storms pounded the area. According to the federal home ministry, 623 people have died during the monsoon season across India so far this year, most from drowning. Monsoon season in India lasts from June to September.

More storms are expected this week in India. Image: ImpactWeather

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