Monday, June 21


IEMA and National Weather Service encourage safety during thunderstorms

Summer brings ballgames, golfing, picnics… and lightning dangers

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[JUNE 21, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- Now that school's out and summer weather has arrived, people are spending more time in the great outdoors -- playing baseball, soccer or golf, swimming, boating, hiking, picnicking and just enjoying the nice weather.

While you're having fun outdoors, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service want you to stay safe when summer thunderstorms approach. That's why they're joining together to observe Lightning Safety Awareness Week during the week of June 20-26.

"Tornadoes and hurricanes tend to grab the big headlines, but lightning kills more people each year in the U.S. than either of these types of storms," said IEMA Director William C. Burke. "Unfortunately, many people have mistaken perceptions of lightning dangers. During Lightning Safety Awareness Week, we want to help people learn the safety measures they should take and hopefully prevent some deaths and serious injuries from lightning."

Each year in the U.S., approximately 73 people are killed by lightning and more than 1,000 are injured. In most lightning fatalities, victims die from cardiac arrest caused by the surge of electricity through their body. For those who survive lightning strikes, many will suffer long-term effects, including memory loss, personality changes, fatigue, irreparable nerve damage, chronic pain or headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness. Only a few victims suffer burns, and many of these are minor.

"Illinois experiences nearly 650,000 lightning strikes each year," according to Chris Miller, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. "Most lightning fatalities and injuries occur during outdoor recreational events in the summer. Coaches, officials, participants and spectators all need to be aware of the threat for deadly lightning. Seeking shelter indoors, or in an enclosed vehicle, is the smartest and safest thing to do when a thunderstorm is nearby."

While many storms come up quickly, there are several steps you can take to protect you and your family from lightning dangers. Some tips for lightning safety include the following:

  • Use the 30-30 rule -- When you see lightning, start counting. If you cannot count to 30 before you hear thunder, get indoors immediately! Once indoors, stay there for 30 minutes after hearing the last rumble of thunder before resuming outdoor activities.
  • Get away from water -- Stop activities in or near water, such as swimming, boating, fishing and camping, and seek a substantial shelter.
  • The best shelter from lightning is inside a substantial building. Avoid carports, porches, garages, sheds, tents, baseball dugouts or under bleachers.
  • If no substantial shelter is available, seek refuge in a hard-topped vehicle with the windows up.
  • Stay away from trees, electrical poles and other tall objects.


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"Although nearly a third of lightning injuries are work-related, a growing number are to children on sports fields," said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper of the bioengineering and emergency medicine departments at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a nationally recognized expert on lightning injuries. "Adults are always responsible for the children in their care, and this includes the coaches and referees who should postpone games whenever lightning is seen or thunder is heard or severe thunderstorms are predicted. Parents also can be indispensable in watching the sky during games."

Substantial buildings, such as homes and office buildings, offer the best protection from lightning, although lightning can still strike these structures. Lightning can enter a building through a direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the building, or through the ground. Once in a structure, the current from a lightning strike can travel through electrical lines, plumbing, phone lines, and radio or TV reception systems.

To stay safe indoors during a thunderstorm, you should:

  • Avoid contact with corded phones -- Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the U.S.
  • Stay away from windows and exterior doors -- Windows and doors can provide a path for a direct strike to enter a home.
  • Stay off porches and decks -- Even if a porch is covered, it does not offer any protection from lightning strikes.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords -- Direct strikes and power surges due to lightning cause significant damage to personal property each year. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.
  • Stay away from plumbing and plumbing appliances -- Do not take a shower or bath during a thunderstorm. Avoid appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines and electric hot-water heaters, since they use both water and electricity.

To learn more about steps to staying safe during thunderstorms, IEMA and the NWS developed a "Lightning Safety Awareness" guide. It includes information on lightning risks, lightning safety both outdoors and indoors, lightning safety on the job, lightning strike injuries, and the science of lightning. [To download the Adobe Acrobat reader for the PDF file, click here.] The guide is also available by calling (217) 785-0229.

[Illinois Emergency Management Agency news release]

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