Understanding lightning and its impacts during a storm

Understanding lightning and its impacts during a storm

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The phrase “When thunder roars, head indoors” has become commonplace, but a new study says that message has shown to be a life-saving mantra.

According to the American Meteorological Society, the average annual lightning related deaths were cut in half from 49 in the 1990s to 25 in the 2010s. Six hundred twenty six people have been killed by lightning in the last 19 years. Every year, about 80 percent of those deaths are men.

More than 400 people are struck by lightning in the United States every year, according to the National Weather Service. Those that aren’t killed are left with injuries that impact their quality of life.

All thunderstorms produce lightning and not knowing what to do, or where to go, could prove fatal.

When you hear thunder and head inside, the structure you seek shelter in makes a big difference.

A home, office building, school, restaurant, or store with electricity and plumbing is a safe bet. Your car is another great option if you’re on the go. You don’t want to shelter in a shed, tent, picnic pavilion, porch, or even a ball-field dugout. Not only are you unprotected, but depending on construction, you may be at a greater risk of being struck.

“We tell people that getting inside a solid structure is your safest bet,” said Carolina Beach Fire & Rescue Chief Alan Griffin. "But, you definitely don’t wanna be out in the open in the field or anything like that during a lightning strike.”

The American Meteorological Society says fishing has surpassed golfing as the riskiest outdoor sport when it comes to storms.

Southeastern North Carolina summers are notorious for pop up showers and storms that produce lightning. Being outside without a shelter to retreat to can be dangerous.

If you find yourself in this situation, get to as low of an elevation as you can. Get off hills, mounds, peaks or other elevated terrain. Conversely, don’t lie flat on the ground, as your chance of being impacted by a ground current rise as more body area meets the ground.

“A worst case would be being stuck out in the middle of a large field or underneath the tree,” said Griffin. "It’s kind of the same thing because you’re kind of unprotected by anything. Being under trees, a tree is obviously going to attract lighting. We see it so much where when there’s a lightning strike, it seems to get the tree and then ground off.”

When you’re inside, make sure you’re protected from a potential lightning strike while you wait to pass the time. Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.

“If you do take a lightning strike, you obviously want to get an electrician to come check that," added Griffin. "If you know that you had a lightning strike, it is best to call the fire department, and let us come out because if lightning runs through your electrical components, there could be a fire smoldering in the attic or in the wall, and it may not show itself for several hours.”

For more information on lightning and its impacts, check out the resources compiled by the National Lightning Safety Council at lightningsafetycouncil.org.

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.