Weather Service issues lightning warning to Alabamians

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002

BNI Newswire

BIRMINGHAM – The National Weather Service is urging the public to be careful in the wake of a lightning strike Monday night which killed a 2-year-old Blount County boy.

"This is believed to be the sixth lightning fatality in Alabama this year," said Brian E. Peters, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Five the people have died as a result of lightning in Alabama this year, he said.

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These include an eight-year-old girl in Montgomery County, three children in Marion County whose manufactured home caught fire after lightning struck it, and 18-year-old Jason Carter of Troy died July 8 when he was struck by lightning while working in a field in Pike County.

Most lightning strikes occur from June through September, when people tend to be outside, Peters said. Since 1980 the state has recorded 47 people who have died from lightning.

Nationally, the average toll in the United States is estimated to be around 100 deaths and 500 injuries. In a typical year, lightning will strike the U.S. over 21 million times and will claim more victims than tornadoes or hurricanes.

Every thunderstorm contains this potential killer. Whether it is the large spring-time severe storm or a more common afternoon variety, that electrical charge, which may reach 100 million volts, is always present and searching for the path of least resistance to complete the circuit. It might strike you, an isolated tree, or an object out in the open. Keep in mind that you do not have to be standing directly beneath a cloud to be hit.

Peters recommended the following lightning safety rules:

· If you are outside, get into an enclosed building; large, substantially constructed buildings tend to be much safer than smaller or open structures. Or get into an all-metal (not convertible) vehicle.

· In general, fully enclosed all metal vehicles with the windows rolled up provide good shelter from lightning. Avoid contact with metal.

· Inside a home, avoid using the telephone except for emergencies. Also, stay away from windows.

· Avoid being in or near high places and open fields, isolated trees, unprotected gazebos, rain or picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, towers, flagpoles, light poles, bleachers of any type, metal fences, convertible vehicles, golf carts, motorcycles, scooters, riding lawn mowers, and water (ocean, lakes, swimming pools, rivers, ponds, etc.).

· Move away from open water or from open tractors or other farm equipment.

· Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails or other metallic paths which could carry lightning to you from some distance away.

· In a forest seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees. In open areas, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.

· If you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike. Stay on the balls of your feet but crouch down and make as low a target of yourself as possible. Do not lie flat on the ground.

· Remember, there is no truth to the old myth that "lightning never strikes twice."

One should also practice the ’30/30′ rule for lightning safety, Peters said. The "30/30" rule for lightning safety could save your life. The first "30" means that you need to take cover if you hear thunder within 30 seconds of the lightning flash ("flash to bang" ratio). Then wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder in order to resume normal activity-the "all clear" signal.

Lightning research has confirmed that consecutive lightning strikes can occur as much as six miles apart. People often do not perceive lightning to be close if it is two miles or more away, but the risk of the next strike being at your location may actually be very high. Many lightning casualties occur in the beginning as a thunderstorm approaches because people ignore these precursors. When thunderstorms are in the area but not overhead, the lightning threat can exist even if it is sunny at your location.