, Gloucester, MA

June 28, 2013

Staying safe in a lightning storm

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — When thunder roars, go indoors!

Not bad advice, courtesy of the National Weather Service. It’s been actively campaigning for lightning safety, but this week (June 23-29) is National Lightning Safety Week.

Thus far, there have been seven lightning-related fatalities in 2013, but this is the beginning of the thunderstorm season. Last year, there were 28 deaths.

Many myths abound when it comes to how we protect ourselves in an electrical storm. For example, many people believe that if the storm isn’t right on top of the area, or it’s not raining, that it’s still safe to be outdoors. The fact is that lightning often strikes 10 to 15 miles away from the storm center, and it’s best to seek indoor shelter at the first opportunity. Many people have been struck when they remained outdoors, on boats, under canopies, or in areas where they were the tallest thing in the environment.

Another pervasive myth is that rubber-soled shoes, or the tires on your car, will protect you in the event of a lightning strike. Both are incorrect. A car does give you some protection, but that’s because of the metal that surrounds you — lightning strikes it, then flows into the ground. Authorities recommend that you not touch metal car doors during the storm. Another little known fact — it can be dangerous to lean against concrete walls (they may contain metal reinforcing rods that can conduct electricity).

For those who think they are safe because “lightning never strikes the same place twice” consider that the Empire State Building in New York is hit more than 100 times per year. Tall, thin, pointy, isolated objects are a lightning attractant.

It’s safer to be indoors, according to the National Weather Service, but not if you plan to use electrical devices, such as corded phones (it is safe to use cell or cordless phones), electrical appliances, or computers. You should also stay away from plumbing, metal window or door frames, etc.

If you are caught outdoors, authorities say the best thing to do is to keep moving toward an appropriate shelter. Don’t stand under trees (one of the most frequent places where victims are hit) or lie on the ground — there is a potential threat of lightning not going directly into the ground, but rather traveling along the ground, where it can be just as deadly. New data suggests that lightning can travel 60 feet in a radial arc from where it strikes.

Once the storm passes, remember the caveat at the beginning of this article – lightning can strike a good distance away from the center of the storm. So, once the storm has passed by, the prudent thing is to wait at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before you resume your outdoor activities.

Have a safe summer!

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.