(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about severe weather awareness.)
There are all sorts of weather threats that can be easily avoided, but experts warn us that lightning is not one of them.
It is one of the more common aspects of the severe weather season, but one that is most commonly ignored.
And we ignore lightning at our own peril, the National Weather Service warns.
As we saw just this week, lightning is a common element of spring weather and NWS experts warn that it can, and does, reach out in storms.
“Lightning can occur between opposite charges within the thunderstorm cloud (Intra Cloud Lightning) or between opposite charges in the cloud and on the ground (Cloud-To-Ground Lightning). Cloud-to-ground lightning is divided two different types of flashes depending on the charge in the cloud where the lightning originates,” according to the NWS information.
The best reaction to a thunderstorm build up is to seek safety, the NWS warns.
“There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area.
“If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Just remember, ‘When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!’
“Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many of the lightning deaths and injuries in the U.S.”
Those of us who live in lightning-rich regions would do well to plan ahead, or to be willing to change plans when thunderstorms threaten.
“The best way to protect yourself from lightning is to avoid the threat. “You simply don’t want to be caught outside in a storm. Have a lightning safety plan, and cancel or postpone activities early if thunderstorms are expected.
“Monitor weather conditions and get to a safe place before the weather becomes threatening. Substantial buildings and hard-topped vehicles are safe options. Rain shelters, small sheds, and open vehicles are not safe.”
While it may be tempting to try to “wait it out” in a picnic shelter, or under a shed overhang, the experts warn that is not safe enough. “Unsafe buildings include car ports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach pavilions, golf shelters, tents of any kinds, baseball dugouts, sheds and greenhouses.”
And the NWS experts warn that getting inside isn’t enough.
Even in a structure, there are precautions to take in a lightning storm.
“A safe shelter from lightning is either a substantial building or a enclosed metal vehicle.
“A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring.
“Examples include a home, school, church, hotel, office building or shopping center.
“Once inside, stay away from showers, sinks, bath tubs, and electronic equipment such as stoves, radios, corded telephones and computers.”
And not all vehicles are lightning safe, either, according to the NWS information.
“A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc.
“While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution.
“If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.
“Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, or any open cab vehicle.”