Monsoon Safety Awareness Week: Lightning

Weather Talk
Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 11:41am

Lightning is 2nd as a thunderstorm-related killer

The National Weather Service offices of New Mexico, Arizona , Southwest Texas and southern Nevada designates the second week in June, June 8th-13th 2014, as “Monsoon Safety Awareness Week.” The monsoon season is from June 15th through September 30th where these areas experience a period of extreme heat, followed by an influx of moisture leading to daily rounds of thunderstorms. The storms can be dangerous in many ways and cause destruction and possible loss of life. We need to be aware of the dangers from flooding, lightning, wildfires downburst winds, dust storms and even the heat!

Today’s topic with the National Weather Service and “Weather Talk” is; Lightning. I will give you some lightning facts you should know, safety tips and talk about a few “lightning myths”.

Lightning is the second highest storm-related killer in the United States. Over the past 30 years, about 52 people on average die each year from lightning strikes. Going way back, in the 1940s, hundreds of people were killed each year by lightning; in 1943 alone, 432 people died. The year 2013 set a record for the fewest lightning deaths in a year in the USA. There were 23 fatalities directly attributed to lightning, according to data from the National Weather Service. The previous record low was in 2011, which had 26 deaths. Accurate lightning death records go back 73 years to 1940. Let us hope we start a trend with another lowest lightning death year with 2014.

Lightning also causes several billion dollars in property damage each year. It is one of the main producers of wildfires and costs airlines billions of dollars per year in operating expenses.

Here are some lightning facts;

• The United States averages 25 million lightning strikes a year!
• The temperature of lightning to 50,000º F (27,700 degrees Celsius) or four times the temperature on the surface of the sun!
• A single bolt may contain as much a hundred million electrical volts!
All thunderstorms do produce some sort of lightning.
• At any given moment there are 1,800 thunderstorms on Earth
Lightning strikes the earth 100 times per second!
Lightning can strike some 5-10+ miles away from a storm.
• The average length of a lightning bolt is 6 miles.
Count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder to estimate the distance between you and the lightning strike. Because sound travels at approximately 1 mile in 5 seconds, you can determine how far away the lightning is by using this "flash-to-bang" method.
Number of  U.S. fatalities per year (30-year average 1980-2009): 57 ! This ties with tornadoes and is more than those lives lost with hurricanes on average.
• The odds of being struck by lightning in the U.S. in any one year is about 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.
• If you can hear thunder, then you are in danger. That means lightning is also possible in the area. Light is faster than sound, which is why thunder lags behind lightning's flash
Lightning strikes in 1/1000th of a second. It is so fast most of the time when our eyes see the flash it has already hit and is actually traveling back up its downward pathway!
Florida has 24.7 Strikes Per Square Mile and also averages the most lightning-related deaths in the U.S. with 463 (from 1959-2011)
• Lightning can cause cardiac arrest. Injuries range from severe burns and permanent brain damage to memory loss and personality change. About 10 percent of lightning-stroke victims are killed, and 70 percent suffer serious long-term effects. About 400 people survive lightning strikes in the U.S. each year.

How do we stay safe?

Watch the forecast and monitor the weather closely. Look for signs of a developing thunderstorm, including darkening skies, flashes of lightning or increasing wind. Cancel or postpone any and all outdoor activities until at least 30 minutes after the storm passes.

Here is the National Weather Services lightning safety list;


•No place outside is safe from lightning
during a thunderstorm
• Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away
from a storm
•If you hear thunder, lightning is close
enough to strike you•
Move inside a strong building or an
enclosed hardtop vehicle
•Avoid contacting inside wiring and
plumbing during a thunderstorm; this
includes appliances and corded phones
•Stay in shelter for 30 minutes after the
last thunder
•If someone is struck by lightning, call
for help immediately

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lightning safety website has a list of some “lightning myths” here are just a few;

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit nearly 100 times a year.

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Don't lean on doors during a thunderstorm.

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!
Form more go to;

There are about 30,000 thunderstorms in a year in New Mexico, so our region sees our share of lightning. The best plan when you know or see lightning is near, is to move indoors. Unplug you TV’s and computers and just use Wifi and cell phones. I hope some of these tips and facts help you better understand the dangers of lightning and how to stay safe. I love the beauty of a good desert thunderstorm but through my years of study and experience they are best appreciated through a window from afar!

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX

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