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 becomes too great, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning. There's so much to learn about lightning.
Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year. Although most lightning occurs in the summer, people can be struck at any time of year. Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured.
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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. Just 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 in the United States. Below are tips on how to stay safe indoors and outdoors as well as brochures and other tools to teach lightning safety.
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Lightning: What You Need to Know
- NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
- If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
- When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
- Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
Indoor Lightning Safety
- Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
- Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
- Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.
Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:
- Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
- Never lie flat on the ground
- Never shelter under an isolated tree
- Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
- Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
- Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)
If you absolutely cannot get to safety, you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck with the following tips. But don't kid yourself--you are NOT safe outside. Know the weather patterns of the area you plan to visit. For example, in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day and be down the mountain by noon. Listen to the weather forecast for the outdoor area you plan to visit. The forecast may be very different from the one near your home. If there is a high chance of thunderstorms, stay inside