Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Lightning should be taken seriously

July 5, 2007

Lightning kills more people in the United States in a year than tornadoes.

What is lightning?

Very simply, lightning is electrical energy. The air in and around a lightning strike is heated to about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hotter than any stove or electrical current that passes into your home.

Thunder is a shock wave. It is produced by the rapid heating of the air around a lightning strike.

The cloud-to-ground lightning strike that you see begins invisibly as a channel of electrically-charged air moving from the cloud toward the ground. When one channel nears an object on the ground, a powerful surge of electricity from the ground moves upward to the clouds and produces the visible lightning strike.

The danger of lightning poses a major threat to everyone. A direct lightning hit can damage or destroy buildings. It can kill a person or persons in a group. It can also destroy electronic systems -- this means your home computer or walk-about telephone.

How do you know if you are in danger?

Lightning is dangerous whenever:

  • You see lightning or hear thunder

The lightning safety guide is the 30-30 rule. The first "30" represents 30 seconds. If the time between when you see the flash and hear the thunder is 30 seconds or less, the lightning is close enough to hit you. If you haven't already, seek shelter immediately.

The second "30" stands for 30 minutes. After the last flash of lightning, wait 30 minutes before leaving your shelter. More than one half of lightning deaths occur after a thunderstorm has passed. People think it is safe, but lightning can still be dangerous even at a distance. It has been known to travel up to 8 to 10 miles before striking its target.

Lightning safety for organized outdoor athletic events

Lightning is the most frequent weather hazard that affects athletic events. Preparation can reduce the risk of the lightning hazards at baseball, football, lacrosse, skiing, swimming, soccer, tennis and track and field events. All these and other outdoor sports have been visited by lightning.

Education is the single most important means to achieve lightning safety. A lightning safety program should be implemented at every facility.

The following steps are suggested:

1. A responsible person should be designated to monitor weather conditions. Listen to the local weather forecasts -- from The Weather Channel, NOAA Weather Radio or local TV stations. Observe the forecast 24 hours prior to athletic events. An inexpensive portable weather radio is recommended for obtaining timely storm data.

2. Suspension and resumption of athletic activities should be planned in advance.

Understanding of safe shelters is essential.

Safe evacuation sites include:

a. Concrete restroom areas.

b. Substantial buildings.

c. The low ground. Seek cover in clumps of bushes.

3. Unsafe shelter areas include all outdoor metal objects like flag poles, fences and gates, high mast light poles, metal bleachers, golf carts and machinery.

Avoid trees. Avoid water. Avoid open fields. Avoid the high ground.

4. Lightning's distance from you is easy to calculate: if you hear thunder, it and the associated lightning are about 6 to 8 miles away. Ask yourself why you should not go to shelter immediately. Of course, different distances to shelter will determine different times to suspend activities.

5. If you feel your hair standing on end, and/or hear "crackling noises" you are in lightning's direct path. If caught outside during close-in lightning, immediately remove metal objects (including baseball cap), place your feet together, duck your head and crouch down low in baseball catcher's stance with hands on knees.

6. Wait a minimum of 30 minutes from the last observed lightning or thunder before resuming activities.

7. People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to handle. Apply first aid immediately if you are qualified to do so. Get emergency help promptly.

Teach this safety slogan:

"If you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it."

Contact me for further information or to request a class on lightning at your facility or in your neighborhood, school or church.

-- Clarin Blessing is the assistant director of training and public education with the Johnson County Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Blessing can be reached at (913) 715-1002 or by e-mail, cblessing@jocogov.org.

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