Lightning Safety Awareness Week: 7 Days of Safety
The first day of summer is June 21, but summer thunderstorms don’t wait for the solstice. Thunderstorms form quickly and lightning can be deadly. Lightning Safety Awareness Week is an effort by the National Weather Service to help increase lightning safety. It’s time to brush up on your lightning facts!
The first awareness week occurred in 2001. Since then, the National Weather Service increased awareness of lightning – an underrated killer. According to the National Weather Service, lightning is one of the top three storm-related killers in the U.S. In fact, over 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes hit the U.S. each year. Each of these strikes is a threat to both lives and infrastructure.
This year, Lightning Safety Awareness Week starts on Sunday, June 23, 2019.#Lightning is one of the top 3 storm-related killers in the #US - @NWS Click To Tweet
Lightning Safety Awareness Week Topics
Day 1 – Sunday
An introduction to lightning and lightning safety is the topic for the first day of Lightning Safety Awareness Week. There is no safe place outdoors when a thunderstorm is in the area. Lightning can strike from over 15 miles away. Chances are that if you can hear thunder you are already in immediate danger. A lot of lightning injuries and fatalities happen because people were too slow to react to an approaching storm or too quick to get back outdoors before the storm was a safe distance away.
The graphic above shows the threat of lightning casualties as a storm approaches when it’s overhead, and as it moves away. Note how the most dangerous times tend to be right before a storm hits and right as it moves away. You can see these two peaks in red.
Day 2 – Monday
The second day, Monday, focuses on the science of lightning and thunder. A big aspect of improving lightning safety comes with spreading knowledge of what lightning is and how it works.
How Thunderstorms Form
Thunderstorms develop early in the day when the sun heats the air near the ground. These pockets of warm air then rise and create cumulus clouds. As the air continues to heat, the clouds grow tall into vertical cumulus and rain develops. When the cloud becomes anvil shaped, a thunderstorm is practically inevitable.
How Lightning Forms
While these storms are forming, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground. When the difference in charges becomes too great, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down. Then, there is a rapid discharge of electricity. This is lightning.
It’s important to note that lightning comprises two different discharges. Cloud-to-ground bolts happen between charges in the cloud and the ground. In-cloud bolts occur between opposite charges within the thunderstorm cloud. A combination of both cloud-to-ground and in-cloud discharges is total lightning. Earth Networks total lightning network (ENTLN) is one of first lightning detection network that prioritized measuring total lightning.
How Thunder Forms
The electrical discharge makes a loud noise we know as thunder. When lightning strikes through the air it heats it up quickly. This causes the air to expand rapidly and creates the sound of thunder. According to the National Weather Service, you can hear thunder about 10 miles from lightning strikes.
Day 3 – Tuesday
The third day’s theme is lightning safety outdoors. During the summer months especially, outdoor workers, athletes, and people enjoying recreation activities are at increased risk of a lightning strike. This is because there is no safe place outdoors when a summer thunderstorm moves in quickly. The only safe thing you can do is to get inside a safe building or vehicle. This move requires planning and an advanced lightning alert system that can notify you a storm is approaching before you are in immediate danger.
If you find yourself when you absolutely cannot get to safety, you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck with the following tips:
- Avoid open fields and hilltops
- Stay away from tall, isolated trees or trees in general
- If you are in a forest stand near a lower group of trees
- Also, stay away from other tall objects
- Stay away from water and wet items like ropes, fences, and poles as these are all excellent conductors of electricity
Day 4 – Wednesday
While indoors is the safest place, you can be during a thunderstorm, you still need to keep safety top of mind. The next topic for Lightning Safety Awareness Week is lightning safety indoors.
What makes up a safe shelter? According to the National Weather Service, a safe shelter is a shelter with electricity and/or plumbing or a metal-topped vehicle with the doors closed.
Once you’re inside, you still need to be mindful of what you’re doing. Since lightning can directly strike a structure, travel through wires or pipes, or enter through the ground, you are still at risk. To stay safe indoors, be sure to:
- Stay off corded phones
- Not touch electrical equipment like computers or TVs
- Avoid plumbing
- Stay away from windows and doors that might have small leaks around the sides
- Make sure you bring your pets in
Day 5 – Thursday
The next topic on Thursday is lightning safety and sports activities. This is a day that focuses on safety for athletes, spectators, and referees. This can be a tricky situation for schools and universities, recreational leagues, and even the professionals. The best way to prepare is to combine a severe weather tracker with a comprehensive lightning safety plan.
Your plan should answer the following questions:
- When should activities be stopped?
- Where should people go for safety?
- When should activities be resumed?
- Who should monitor the weather and make the decision to stop activities? Should it even be a person at all or an automated system?
- What should be done if someone is struck by lightning?
Day 6 – Friday
The penultimate topic is medical effects on lightning victims. A common misconception about lightning injuries is how to treat victims. In the unfortunate case that lightning strikes someone around you, remember it is completely safe to help them immediately. Their bodies are not carrying an electric charge! Have someone dial 911 as you perform CPR.
Lightning affects the nervous system and can cause brain and nerve damage. A few days after the strike, muscle soreness, headache, nausea, mild confusion, and dizziness are all common. Although rarer injuries, burns and cardiac arrest can occur.
- Problems learning new information
- Problems remembering things
- Slow reaction times
- Irritability or personality change
- Chronic headaches that over-the-counter medications do not help
- Chronic pain from nerve injury
- Difficulty sleeping
- Ringing in ears
Our Club Safety Manager, Brian Smack, is a lightning victim. You can read Brian’s story about his personal experience to learn more about lightning strike side effects.
Day 7 – Saturday
The last day of Lightning Safety Awareness Week focuses on protecting your home or business from lightning. While lightning poses a threat to humans and animals, it also can wreak havoc on structures. Lightning rods are the best way to protect your home or business from lightning damage. Lightning rods and their accompanying protecting system protect a building from a direct lightning strike and lightning-related fire.
As in any lightning safety system, lightning rods don’t stop the lightning from striking. Instead, a lightning rod reroutes the lightning through a conductive path. Then the harmful electrical discharge follows the appropriate cable and disperses into the ground.
Lightning Learners – It Doesn’t Stop Here!
While Lightning Safety Awareness Week is an educational and effective program in the U.S., the learning doesn’t stop at the end of the week. Stay updated with lightning safety tips and stories all year round by subscribing to our blog.
Does this year’s lightning awareness week miss any questions you might have about this fascinating yet dangerous weather phenomenon? Leave your questions in the bottom below and we’ll have our expert meteorologists share their insights.
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