Tags: Lightning | Safety | Tips

Lightning Safety Tips

Friday, 29 June 2007 12:00 AM

The biggest misconception people have about getting struck by lightning, one of the world's leading experts on lightning strike injuries says, is that it won't happen to them.

In fact, people are thousands of times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery, Dr. Mary Ann Cooper of the University of Illinois at Chicago told Reuters Health. Anyone who lives to the age of 80 has a 1 in 5,000 chance of being hit at least once.

In 2006, there were 47 documented deaths due to lightning strikes and 246 reported injuries. But all injuries aren't reported, so it's likely that many more people were actually hurt by lightning strikes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A lightning strike can cause lasting damage, from memory loss and depression to chronic pain and paralysis. "Lightning is a nervous system injury, it's not a burn injury as most people would think," Cooper points out.

Cooper is helping to increase awareness of lightning risks as part of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, co-sponsored by the NOAA and the National Weather Service.

When lightning threatens, there are a number of ways people can reduce their risk of being struck. Cooper offers the following tips:

Understand the weather patterns in the area where you are -- for example, if thunderstorms typically happen during July afternoons -- and plan accordingly. Keep track of weather alerts from NOAA, which will warn if severe thunderstorms are expected, but be aware that such storms can strike unexpectedly, too.

If you're outside, get indoors fast. And once you are inside, stay away from open windows and doors, as well as hard-wired electrical equipment and plumbing, both of which can carry an electrical charge if a house is hit by lightning. Use of a hard-wired phone is the chief cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States, Cooper says, while an increasing number of cases involve children playing with hard-wired game cubes or Playstations. Cell phones are safe to use, she adds, as long as they don't distract you from getting to a safe place.

People should also avoid concrete walls or floors, which are typically reinforced with metal and can therefore carry an electrical charge.

Hard-top cars are safe in a thunderstorm, but soft-tops are not. If you are in a car during a thunderstorm, close the doors, roll up all the windows, and avoid touching metal surfaces.

Open shelters without plumbing or electrical wiring will not protect you from lightning, and may even make you more vulnerable. "If you're outside it's probably better to be soaking wet in the middle of the fairway as a low object than it is to be dry under the trees or in one of those shelters," Cooper said. Sometimes, when signs indicate that a shelter is "lightning safe," this means that the building itself has been protected-but not that any people inside will be.

Once you've heard the last rumble of thunder, wait another 30 minutes before heading back outdoors.

For more information, including special tips for kids, go to http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

SOURCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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The biggest misconception people have about getting struck by lightning, one of the world's leading experts on lightning strike injuries says, is that it won't happen to them. In fact, people are thousands of times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the...
Lightning,Safety,Tips
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2007-00-29
Friday, 29 June 2007 12:00 AM
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