Bulletin Staff Report

The release of a public service video featuring a Miss America hopeful whose sister was seriously injured by a lightning strike nine years ago highlights this year’s observance of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, according to National Weather Service headquarters director Jack Hayes.

The week’s observance ends today, but the video and other activities are designed to raise lightning safety awareness throughout the year.

“In an average year, lightning strikes more than 400 people in the United States,” Hayes said. “About 60 die. Many more victims are left with devastating and permanent disabilities.”

The new 30-second video public service announcement features Ellen Bryan, an Ohio college student and Miss America hopeful

“This dramatic PSA highlights the seriousness of lightning injuries and their impact on the victims and their families,” Hayes said.

It’s no accident that the week begins as the summer season starts. Summer is the peak season for this deadly weather phenomena, but lightning strikes year-round.

To date, in 2009, 15 people have been killed by lightning. In 2008, 28 people died due to lightning strikes, while hundreds of others were permanently injured. Of the victims who were killed by lightning in 2008, 100 percent were outside, 79 percent were male, 36 percent were males between the ages of 20-25, 32 percent had attempted to find shelter under a tree and 29 percent on or near the water.

Safety experts emphasized that no place outdoors is safe when lightning is in the area. People should remain indoors 30 minutes after the last lightning bolt is seen, because “out of the blue” lightning strikes — when bolts travel horizontally for miles under clear skies — are just as deadly as those that come vertically from clouds directly overhead.

The reported number of injuries is likely far lower than the actual total number because many people do not seek help or doctors do not record it as a lightning injury, Weather Service officials said. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression and an inability to sit for long.

Over the past several decades, lightning fatalities have gradually decreased, Hayes said, and the week’s activities are designed to maintain that trend. Over the past decades, the average number of fatal lightning strikes is 62 a year.

A Web site, www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov, offers information about lightning safety. A new lightning safety brochure, Lightning Safety for You and Your Family, is available on the National Weather Service Lightning Safety Awareness web site, along with additional safety information, statistics and posters.

“And as you enjoy summer outdoor activities, remember safety comes first,” Hayes said. “When thunder roars, go indoors!”