NOAA WARNS THAT NATURE'S FIREWORKS AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES CAN BE A DEADLY MIX
June 30, 2006 — Lightning and summertime outdoor activities can be a lethal combination warn meteorologists with the NOAA National Weather Service as the nation enters lightning's most deadly time of the year. (Click NOAA image for lager view of lightning collage. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"We're about to enter into the most deadly month of the year for lightning," said John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert with the NOAA National Weather Service. "Typically, about 30 percent of the annual lightning deaths occur in July, which is the peak in lightning activity across the United States and also when people spend a lot of time outside enjoying summertime activities. Unfortunately, it is that combination of being outdoors and lightning that can be deadly."
During 2005, there were at least 43 lightning fatalities in the U.S., all of which occurred outdoors. Of those, 13 fatalities occurred during the month of July, making it the most deadly month during 2005, which saw fatalities from February until October. June had the second greatest number of fatalities with 11, and August was third with nine.
Of the 43 fatalities for 2005, 39 (91 percent) were male and four (9 percent) were female. Typically, about 85 percent of the fatalities are male and 15 percent are female. Florida led the nation in lightning fatalities in 2005 with six, Pennsylvania was second with four, and Kentucky, Ohio and Texas, each had three. The victims ranged in age from 1 to 70.
"If you are outside, it is important to seek safety immediately if you hear thunder or the sky looks threatening. Lightning can strike 10 miles from a thunderstorm, which is about the distance that you can hear thunder from the storm," added Jensenius. "Too often, people wait too long before seeking safe shelter from a thunderstorm and find themselves caught outside in a very dangerous and sometimes deadly situation."
At least seven of the 43 fatalities in 2005 involved people who were actively seeking shelter from the storm at the time they were struck by lightning. "If those victims had just sought shelter five minutes sooner, they'd likely be alive today," said Jensenius.
During the last 30 years, lightning has killed about 2,000 people in the United States, an average of 66 people per year. In addition, lightning injures hundreds of people each year; some survivors are left with debilitating health effects.
When thunderstorms threaten, NOAA recommends that people seek safety in a substantial building. If outdoors and unable to reach a substantial building, a hard-topped metal vehicle is a good second choice. Once inside, avoid contact with any electrical equipment or plumbing, stay off corded phones, and stay away from windows and doors.
When planning outdoor activities, listen to the latest weather forecast, plan for the possibility of thunderstorms and know where to quickly seek safety if a storm develops. Carry a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards to monitor current and developing weather conditions.
In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
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