Lightning: What You Need to Know

Before heading out in your recreational vehicle, ensure you have a plan and know what to do if you encounter severe weather.

Know what actions to take to protect yourself, family, pets, and property against severe weather. (Source: NOAA)

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena— lightning.

But don’t be fooled, lightning can strike year round.

Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous.

Understanding the dangers of lightning is important so that you can get to a safe place when thunderstorms threaten. If you hear thunder—even a distant rumble or a crackling aloft—you are already in danger of becoming a lightning victim.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), 1,800 thunderstorms occur at any moment around the world. That’s 16 million each year!

In the United States, there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. Each of those 25 million flashes is a potential killer.

While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. In addition, lightning injures many more people than it kills and leaves some victims with life-long health problems.

In the United States an average of 54 people are reported killed each year by lightning. To date, there have been 4 deaths in 2012—two in Louisiana and one each in Alabama and Florida. During 2011 there were 26 fatalities in 18 states.

Lightning also causes 400 injuries each year and accounts for more than $1 billion in insured losses each year.

Lightning is one of Mother Nature’s visual wonders. However, it can be very deadly. (Source: NOAA)

People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

How Lightning Forms

Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the ground. In the initial stages of development, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground; however, when the differences in charges become too great, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning.

What is Thunder?

Thunder is the sound made by a flash of lightning. As lightning passes through the air, it heats the air quickly. This causes the air to expand rapidly and creates the sound wave that we hear as thunder.

Normally, you can hear thunder about 10 miles from a lightning strike. Since lightning can strike outward 10 miles from a thunderstorm, if you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm.

Lightning Safety

There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many of the lightning deaths and injuries.

A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, truck, motor coach, and recreational vehicle. It is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires.

When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground.

Lightning is a serious danger. (Source: NOAA)

While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm.

Don’t lean on doors during a thunderstorm.

Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, or any open cab vehicle.

If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.

Worth Pondering…
It was one of those hot, silent nights, when people sit at windows, listening for the thunder which they know will shortly break; when they recall dismal tales of hurricanes and earthquakes; and of lonely travelers on open plains, and lonely ships at sea, struck by lightning.

—Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, Chapter XLII

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