At any given moment, nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are in progress over the face of the earth, and lightning strikes the earth 100 times a second. On average, the United States gets 100,000 thunderstorms each year. Lightning is a major threat during a thunderstorm. In the United States, between 75 and 100 Americans are hit and killed each year by lightning. Thunderstorms can also bring heavy rains, strong winds, hail, and tornadoes.
What is lightning? Lightning is an electrical discharge that results from the buildup of positive and negative charges within a thunderstorm. When the buildup becomes strong enough, lightning appears as a “bolt”. This flash of light occurs within clouds or between the clouds and the ground A bolt of lightning reaches a temperature approaching 50,0000 F in a split second. The rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning causes thunder.
Myth- Lightning never strikes in the same place. Fact- Lightning will strike several times in the same place in the course of one discharge.
Some thunderstorms can be seen approaching, while others hit without warning. Lightning can strike from storms ten or more miles away. Lightning has been known to come from a clear blue sky, “a bolt out of the blue”. It is important to learn and recognize the danger signs and plan ahead. Normally thunderstorms contain dark, towering or threatening clouds. You may hear distant thunder and lightning. Because light travels much faster than sound, lightning flashes can be seen long before the resulting thunder is heard.
Estimate the number of miles you are from a thunderstorm by counting the number of seconds between a flash and the next clap of thunder. Divide this number by five.
Important-You are in danger from lightning if you can hear thunder. Knowing how far away a storm is does not mean that you’re in danger only when the storm is overhead.
What does a severe thunderstorm watch and warning mean? A severe thunderstorm watch is issued by the National Weather Service when the weather conditions are such that a severe thunderstorm (damaging winds 58 miles per hour or more, hail three-fourths in diameter or greater) is likely to develop. This is the time to locate a safe place in the home and tell family members to watch the sky and listen to the radio or television for more information. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. At this point, the danger is very serious and everyone should go to a safe place, turn on a battery-operated radio or television, and wait for the “all clear” by the authorities.
Have disaster supplies on hand:
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
• First aid kit and manual
• Emergency food and water
• Nonelectric can opener
• Essential medicines
• Cash and credit cards
• Sturdy shoes
What can you do during a thunderstorm?
• Secure outdoor objects such as lawn furniture that could blow away or cause damage or injury. Take light objects inside.
• Listen to battery operated radio or television for the latest storm information.
• Do not handle any electrical equipment or telephones because lightning could follow the wire. Television sets are particularly dangerous at this time.
• Avoid bathtubs, water faucets, and sinks because metal pipes can transmit electricity.
• Attempt to get into a building or car.
• If no structure is available, get to an open space and squat low to the ground as quickly as possible. If in the woods, find an area protected by a low clump of trees. Never stand underneath a single large tree in the open. Be aware of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas.
• Crouch with hands and knees.
• Avoid tall structures such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines, or power lines.
• Stay away from natural lightning rods such as golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles, or camping equipment.
• Stay away from rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water.
• If you are isolated in a level field or prairie and you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike), bend forward, putting your hands on your knees. A position with feet together and crouching while removing all metal objects is recommended. Do not lie flat on the ground.
Develop an emergency plan. In case family members are separated from one another during a storm have a plan for getting back together. Make sure all family members know how to respond after a thunderstorm. Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity and water. Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 and which radio station to tune for emergency information.