Winter has come to an end, bringing spring and summer upon us. With warm weather comes thunderstorms and subsequently, lightning.
Thunderstorms are most prevalent during late spring to early fall with approximately 90% of all lightning casualties occurring between May and September. The month with the highest amount of lightning fatalities is July.
In the United States, lightning is the number two cause of storm-related deaths with twenty-five million strikes of lightning hitting the ground annually. With that many lightning strikes, what is the number of fatalities caused by lightning?
On average in the United States, there are 42 lightning related deaths annually. Of these 62% occur during recreational activities, including sports.
If you find yourself outside and it looks like there is a thunderstorm approaching, there are methods you can use to monitor how close the storm is. One way is through a National Weather Service app to monitor the storm. Some mobile phone apps now have a lightning tracker that will show how far away in miles lightning is from your location.
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You can also use a method called flash to bang.
For this method, you start counting once you see lightning and stop counting when you hear thunder. You then take the number of seconds you counted and divide by five to determine how many miles away the lightning is.
If lightning is within six miles from you it is no longer safe to be outside and you should find a safe location. When in doubt, the National Weather Service Lightning-Safety Slogan says, “when thunder roars, go indoors.”
A safe location during a thunderstorm is a fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing or a fully enclosed metal vehicle. Unsafe locations for a thunderstorm include tents, dugouts, bleachers, screened porches, and open garages. You should also avoid tall objects, such as trees and poles, and large bodies of water during a thunderstorm, as these are also unsafe locations.
There are several ways that a lightning strike can hit an individual. The most common lightning strike is the ground current or side voltage strike, which is when lightning strikes the ground and an individual near the strike intercepts a portion of the current. 50-55% of all fatalities is due to this type of strike.
Another common type of strike is the side flash. This is when lightning strikes an object near a person and part of the lightning’s energy jumps from the object to the person. This accounts for approximately 30% of all lightning fatalities.
Surprisingly, the least common lightning strike is a direct strike. A direct strike is when the lightning solely hits a person without hitting any other object.
This type of strike accounts for 3-5% of all lightning fatalities. A contact injury also has a prevalence of 3-5% of all fatalities. This is when an individual is touching an object that is struck by lightning. Examples of this can be a bench/bleacher or pole.
The mortality rate of being struck by lightning is only about 8-10% and the most common cause of death directly related to being struck by lightning is from cardiac or respiratory arrest.
Other injuries related to being struck by lightning are listed below:
Brain injury symptoms such as attention deficit, recurrent headaches, short-term memory loss, and difficulty processing new information.
Individuals who have been struck by lightning might have their symptoms begin up to two months after injury. One of the most thought of injuries from an individual who gets struck by lightning is burns. However, less than 30% of those who are struck by lightning will have superficial burns and these burns are most often associated with metal jewelry or metal clothing that was heated by the lightning strike.
A common misconception about lightning is that if someone gets struck by lightning, it is unsafe to touch them due to electrical charge still being inside the victim.
However, this is not true!
In fact, the charge from a lightning strike will not even be in a person for one millisecond after they are struck by lightning. This makes it safe to touch and give first aid to a lightning victim immediately after they are struck. A rescuer must consider their own safety when providing care to the situation. If it is possible to move someone, it is better to conduct treatment in a safe location. Also, if you suspect someone is in cardiac arrest call 911 immediately and perform CPR.
So, when is it safe to go back outside?
You should wait until 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning within a 6-mile radius. Waiting the full 30 minutes gives a 90-95% confidence that no more lightning will occur in the area. Knowing of the dangers and safety regarding lightning allows you to enjoy warm weather activities outside safely.