Those of us who participate in outdoor activities like to squeeze in every minute we can, especially during the summer months.
However, there are times we should become a wimp and head indoors as quickly as we can.
Thunderstorms and lightning may be quite a natural display. They also can be a deadly combination.
We outdoor types are the most likely victims of lightning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
A recent NOAA study shows that since 2006, 64 percent of lightning deaths involved those who pursue leisure activities. Fishing topped the list of those 152 deaths with 26. Camping and boating ranked second and third with 15 and 14 deaths.
Since weather hazard deaths have been compiled since 1940, lightning has killed more people (9,207) than tornadoes (7,374), floods (7,478), hurricanes (3,318) and heat (3,572). Lightning deaths have decreased over the past 30 years. About 70 percent of lightning deaths happen in June, July and August, which should be obvious since the peak activity for lightning occurs in those three months. And because the weather is warm and daylight is longer, more people are outside.
There have been eight lightning deaths in the U.S. this year. Three of those involved someone fishing. One was a person walking on the beach, one was standing outside a restaurant, one was in the front yard under trees, one wa sin the park and one was climbing down from a scaffolding.
Thus, people should be acutely aware of these dangerous bolts. And they should be ready to move as soon as they know thunderstorms are possible. Often, people are not convinced they must move quickly. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), many victims were just steps away from safety or headed for safety when they were struck.
The likely reason there are more deaths in activities such as while fishing, boating, camping, is that it takes more time to find appropriate shelter
“The general phrase we use is that, ‘When thunder roars, head indoors,’ ” NWS meteorologist Evan Bentley in North Webster, Ind., said.
“Any time you hear thunder, you could possibly be struck by lightning. You cannot have thunder without lightning. And you don’t always see the lightning,” Bentley said.
Lightning can strike from 10 miles away. According to the NWS, lightning can strike if it is not raining and clouds are not overhead.
The only safe places to be during a thunderstorm are in a building with four walls and a roof or in a car. Lightning is powerful.
So what is lightning?
Simply put, Bentley said it is, “similar to static electricity like when you rub your socks floor and it shocks someone. Lightning is the same process except on a much larger scale.”
The NWS defines lightning as “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 or the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know ad lightning.”
According to NOAA, a typical lightning flash is about 300 million volts and about 30,000 Amps. In comparison, household current is 120 volts and 15 amps. There is enough energy in a typical flash of lightning to light a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for about three months or the equivalent compact fluorescent bulb for about a year.
“People often wait far too long to head to safety when a storm is approaching and that puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the NWS said.
So, don’t take that extra cast or a few minutes by the campfire or out in the boat. Head to safety and fast.
Get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.
Never seek shelter under an isolated tree. Stay away from objects that conduct electricity.
Remember, no place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area.
(Al Smith is outdoor editor of The Crescent-News. Contact him at outdoor@crescent-news. You can follow him on facebook at http://on.fb.me/13S6PnY and on Twitter @cnalsmith)