Monday, June 24, 2013

It Happens in a Flash: Lightning Safety Tips

by Cathryn Homier, volunteer contributor

Take a minute, and think of someone you know who buys lottery tickets. Maybe it’s no one close to you. Maybe it’s just someone you’ve seen buying tickets the same time you’ve been inside a convenience store. Now consider this: that person is more likely to get struck by lightning once in their lifetime (1 in 10,000 over 80 years) than win the mega millions jackpot.

Despite the odds, people still play the lottery. But, what about lightning safety? With potentially far greater stakes at risk, all of us, including you – yes, you, even if you don’t play the mega millions – should brush up on the best ways to stay safe when lightning is near. 

While we can all be thankful that summertime thunderstorms keep scorching heat at bay, they also mean lightning is present. Summer is when most of lightning injuries occur: the amount of time people spend outdoors is at its highest, as is lightning activity. Don’t gamble with your safety. If you hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm, and potentially in danger from lightning. Wait 30 minutes from the last thunder clap before venturing back outside.

Plan ahead. If you’re going to be outside, check the weather. Do whatever you can to not be caught outside during a thunderstorm. If you are, remember the only truly safe action is to get inside a safe building or a vehicle. Baseball dugouts, tents, and open sided picnic shelters are not completely safe during lightning activity.

Don’t shelter under an isolated tree. Lightning tends to strike the tallest object in its path, making trees or lightning rods especially susceptible to being hit. If you have no safe building nearby, it’s best to stay near a lower stand of trees. Never lie flat on the ground if you’re caught outdoors. 

Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords. This also goes for corded landline phones. Cell phones or cordless phones are safe to use, though. Lightning can enter a building through wires, and then travel through electrical and phone systems.

Avoid plumbing. Pipes that extend outside of a safe building can be struck by lightning and conduct it through plumbing. 

While you may never be a lottery jackpot winner, the odds that you experience a close encounter with lightning are entirely up to you. So make your own luck. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for severe weather updates. You can also get real-time notifications on your smartphone by downloading the Red Cross Tornado App

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