What have been described as unusual thunderstorms are being blamed for more than 800 fires raging in northern California this week, and on Wednesday firefighters were still struggling to contain them all.
With the consequences of these electrical storms featured so prominently in the news, the observance of Lightning Safety Awareness Week June 22-28 is quite appropriate, if only coincidental. The fires that lightning sets, such as those this week in California, cause tremendous loss of property and threaten numerous lives. But injuries caused to people by lightning strikes — both direct and indirect — are also legitimate concerns.
The National Weather Service reports that Texas ranks second only to Florida in the number of people killed by lightning, and the number of Americans killed by lightning each year typically exceeds the number killed by tornadoes or hurricanes. In the United States during 2007, 45 people were struck and killed by lightning.
According to the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, electrical current from lightning moves along the ground as well as through the air. That’s why most people are injured by lightning that strikes nearby, rather than by direct lightning strikes.
On average, six of every 10 victims of lightning strikes will survive. However, survivors may suffer painful effects and health problems for the rest of their lives.
Weather experts say that if you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to get struck by lightning. That’s why the National Weather Service says, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
Being in an urban area is no protection. If you can hear thunder above city noise, it’s time to go inside. To be sure you’re safe, remain indoors for 30 minutes following the last thunderclap that you hear.
A house or other substantial structure offers the best protection from lightning.
With the dry weather Texas has been experiencing, thunderstorms that produce rain would be quite welcome, even though those storms also bring the possibility of grass fires touched off by lightning. Observing a few common-sense safety rules when storm clouds gather could prevent unnecessary personal injury.