The odds of being hit by lightning may seem remote, but the threat is real, and outdoor—and some indoor—activities should be altered when thunderstorms are nearby. This week (June 20 to 26, 2010) is Lightning Safety Week, reminding farmers to educate themselves on the dangers lightning poses.
Mike Brown, associate professor in geosciences at Mississippi State University, is a seasoned storm chaser. When educating new storm chasers, he emphasizes the threats that come from lightning.
“Even with all we know about weather, we cannot predict when and where lightning will strike,” he says.
In general, Brown says if people can hear thunder, they should go inside.
“If lightning occurs within 6 miles of your location, you can be struck,” he says. “Measure the distance by counting from the time of the flash until the thunder. Every five seconds equal 1 mile.”
Ted Gordon, extension safety specialist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, Miss., says the best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation is to postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are expected.
“If you are outside, move to a sturdy building or a hard-top vehicle. Do not take shelter in small sheds or under isolated trees. Stay away from tall objects, such as towers, fences, telephone poles and power lines,” Gordon says. “If lightning is occurring and a sturdy shelter is not available, get inside a hard-top automobile and keep the windows up. Avoid touching any metal.”
The danger does not end once inside a sturdy building.
“Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliance. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage to electronic equipment, or even fires,” Gordon says. “Use phones only in an emergency. Do not take a bath or shower during thunderstorms.”
Some high-risk activities during a thunderstorm include boating, swimming, golfing, bike riding, riding farm equipment, horseback riding, talking on a telephone, and attending or participating in outdoor athletic events.
Read more tips for lightening safety from the National Weather Service.