When most people think of severe weather, the thought of hail, tornadoes, damaging winds, and hurricanes typically comes to mind. While those phenomena are especially damaging forms of severe weather, it is important to remember that lightning is very damaging, and also a killer.
Data published by the National Weather Service show that between 1979 and 2008, lightning killed more people per year than hurricanes and tornadoes. The National Lightning Safety Institute published deaths caused by lightning for each state from 1990 – 2003.
Comparing that map with the flash density map at the top of this article, there seems to be a disproportionate number of deaths for Oklahoma compared to the density of lightning in the state. Before Oklahoma’s traditional severe weather (and thunderstorm) season starts, and during Oklahoma Severe Weather Awareness Week, it is important to review some lightning safety tips.
Monitor developing thunderstorms. Many deaths caused by lightning are caused by the first strike of lightning (the so-called “Bolt from the Blue”). During outdoor activities, keep an eye on the clouds, and if any start growing significantly in height, that is a hint that a thunderstorm may be developing, and may be a clue that it is time to start considering moving indoors.
Avoid water. Electricity and water do not mix. If there is a thunderstorm occurring, avoid swimming pools, natural bodies of water, and tubs or showers.
Avoid electrical equipment. Keep out of direct contact with corded telephones, computers, and other electronic devices, as the current from a lightning strike can travel through the cords.
Wait before going back outside. After the last clap of thunder that you hear, wait 30 minutes before going back outside. This will allow the storm to get far enough away that you will be out of the lightning strike zone.
It is important to remember that lightning is dangerous and a potential killer. If someone you know has been struck by lightning, they need medical attention immediately. Dial 9-1-1, and remember that they do not have an electric charge, so you can perform CPR if necessary. Following a few simple steps can help lessen your threat of death or injury caused by lightning strikes.
For more information:
National Lightning Safety Institute
National Severe Storms Laboratory Lightning Basics
National Weather Service Lightning Safety
National Weather Service Weather Fatality, Injury, Damage Statistics