This Is Lightning Safety Awareness Week

June 21, 2010

This year marks the 10th Lightning Safety Awareness Campaign, June 20-26. Spearheaded by the National Weather Service, the campaign has reduced death and injury from lightning strikes in the U.S., with average annual deaths dropping from 72 to 40 in the last decade.

This year the campaign will emphasize going indoors sooner.

“The majority of those who died last year were within feet of safety but stayed out to finish their lawn or other things,” says Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, professor emeritas of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” has been the slogan of the National Lightning Safety Team. This year the weather service is adding “…and stay there at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.”

“The public should continue to keep up their guard about the danger of lightning injury, particularly as lightning activity peaks during the summer months,” said Cooper.

Already this summer lightning strikes have claimed eight lives in the U.S.

In addition to the 40 people killed in an average year by lightning, hundreds are permanently injured. Injured victims suffer a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, dizziness, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

Safety depends on risk reduction and individual responsibility for checking weather predictions, having a safety plan, and getting to safety well before lightning strikes.

“When planning outdoor activities, know what shelter is available and where to go if you hear thunder,” Cooper said.

Any outdoor activity should include a plan for shelter, but it’s also important to understand how lightning travels. Lightning can strike even before it begins to rain and as far as 10 miles away from the rain curtain of a thunderstorm.

People should go indoors immediately after hearing thunder. If going indoors is not possible, then a hard-top metal car, bus or truck may provide protection. Once inside, stay off land-line phones, computers and video games. Never go under a tree.

In addition to the guidelines for individuals, this year the weather service is offering a lightning safety toolkit for counties, communities and large-event venues, Cooper said. The toolkit provide templates and checklists for best-practice lightning safety measures.

Source: National Weather Service

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