By Kathy Hubbard
Last Thursday a squall settled right over my house. As soon as I saw the lightning, I heard the loudest clap of thunder. Then it happened again and again. It was scary. The ensuing rain was furious. All the while it was sunny in Sandpoint. That’s the crazy thing about a lightning storm; it doesn’t follow a predictable pattern.
“Each year in the United States, more than 400 people are struck by lightning. On average, between 55 and 60 people are killed; hundreds of others suffer permanent neurological disabilities,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Most of these tragedies can be avoided with a few simple precautions. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place.”
That sounds simple enough, provided we know where those safe places are. So, the best plan is to have one. NOAA says that when we are going for an outdoor outing, hiking, biking or boating we should know where we will go for safety and how long it will take to get there.
Before heading out, check the forecast and consider postponing activities if lightning is predicted. And, since a storm can come up at any time, be sure to monitor the weather. Look for darkening skies, flashes of lightning or increased wind. This will give you time to get to your refuge.
“If you hear thunder, even a distant rumble, immediately move to a safe place. Fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing provide the best protection. Sheds, picnic shelters, tents or covered porches do NOT protect you from lightning. If a sturdy building is not nearby, get into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the windows. Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder,” NOAA advises.
So, say you can’t get to a building or vehicle, what then? “Avoid open areas. Don’t be the tallest object in the area. Stay away from isolated tall trees, towers or utility poles. Lightning tends to strike the taller objects in an area. Stay away from metal conductors such as wires or fences. Metal does not attract lightning, but lightning can travel long distances through it,” NOAA says.
Quickly get off elevated areas such as mountain ridges. Do not lie flat on the ground. Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter and stay away from all bodies of water. Yup, head for shore if you’re in a boat and stay low.
They say if you are with a group of people to move apart. “While this actually increases the chance that someone might get struck, it tends to prevent multiple casualties.” That’s great advice, spread out and cross your fingers that it’s your brother-in-law that gets hit!
Let’s go back into the house. NOAA says to keep away from electrical equipment and wiring. Stay away from windows and doors. Do not lean against concrete walls nor lie down on a concrete floor.
And, here’s a one that they said that I had never heard before, “Water pipes conduct electricity. Don’t take a bath or shower or use other plumbing during a storm.” What a good excuse for leaving those dishes in the sink!
I did know that you should never use a corded phone during a storm. I found that out when a friend of mine lost his hearing by using one. He suffered several effects, just as if he’d been directly hit by the lightning outdoors.
Good to know is that lightning victims don’t carry an electrical charge, so it’s safe to touch them. Immediately get him to a safer place. Lightning can strike twice and you don’t want to get hit. Get medical assistance right away. Call 911 if you’re within cellphone service. Do not delay performing CPR if the person is unresponsive or not breathing.
NOAA says that there are at least 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the U.S. each year. This time of year, they are prevalent in our part of the world. Please remember, when thunder roars, go indoors!
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.