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Thunderstorms and Lightning

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Thunderstorms and Lightning

Few areas in the United States are free from thunderstorms and associated hazards. It is estimated that at any given moment nearly 2,000 thunderstorms are in progress over the earth's surface and lightning strikes the earth 100 times each second. There are about 45,000 thunderstorms daily and 16 million annually around the world. There are at least 100,000 thunderstorms annually across the United States.

Severe thunderstorms may have winds of more than 57 mph or hail 3/4 inch or more in diameter and may include dangerous lightning.

Lightning may strike miles from the parent cloud. Precautions should be taken, even if the thunderstorm is not directly overhead. A lightning bolt is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun and can strike as far as 10 miles from the rain portion of the storm. The average distance from one lightning strike to the next is two to three miles. In the United States, an average of 93 people are killed and 300 injured each year by lightning. Most of these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable. Property loss is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The National Weather Service monitors atmospheric conditions around the clock and issues watches and warnings for severe thunderstorms. Despite these announcements, you must be knowledgeable and be prepared to protect yourself from this weather phenomenon.

Follow these safety rules to protect yourself and your family:
    • If you are planning to be outdoors, check the latest weather forecast and keep your eye on the sky. At signs of an impending storm, tune to your radio for the latest weather information. A NOAA Weather Radio is recommended if you participate in sports or have many outdoor activities. This inexpensive radio will provide timely information, allowing you time to react appropriately.

    • When thunderstorms threaten, the best protection is inside a sturdy building. Get inside a home, a large building or an all-metal (not convertible) automobile. Do not use the telephone except for emergencies.

    • If caught outside, do not stand underneath a tall, isolated tree or a telephone pole. Avoid projecting above the surrounding landscape. For example, don't stand on a hilltop. In a wooded area, 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, but remain alert for flash flooding.

    • Get off and away from open water, and any type of equipment (tractors, motorcycles, golf carts, etc.).

    • Put down golf clubs and take off golf shoes.

    • Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes and rails.

    • If you are in a group, spread out and keep people several yards apart.


    If you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike you. Drop to your knees and bend forward, putting your hands on your knees. DO NOT lie flat on the ground!
First Aid
    In order to prepare yourself for an emergency of this type, take a Red Cross first aid and CPR course. Call the Roanoke Chapter of the American Red Cross at 540-985-3550 for class schedules and fees.

    If you witness someone struck by lightning, call the E-911 Control Center as soon as possible to request emergency medical assistance. Persons struck by lightning receive a severe electrical shock and may be burned, but they do not carry an electrical charge and therefore can be handled safely. Many times, someone who appears to have been killed by lightning can be revived by prompt action. If a group is struck by lightning, the unconscious should be treated first. Those unconscious but still breathing will probably recover spontaneously, but even people with no visible side effects need to go see their physician to make sure no hidden complications exist.

    If the victim is not breathing, you should immediately begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, once every 5 seconds to adults and once every 3 seconds to infants and children, until help arrives.

    If both pulse and breathing are absent, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)-- a combination of mouth-to-mouth and external cardiac compression -- is necessary. This procedure should only be administered by persons with proper training.

    Other victims should be checked for burns, especially at fingers and toes and next to buckles and jewelry. Do not let the victim walk around. Stay with the victim until help arrives.