Lightning Safety Awareness Week: What to do when caught outdoors

Lightning Safety Awareness Week: What to do when caught outdoors

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Lightning in Gulf Shores. Source: Viewer Kerri Nicole Blow Lightning in Gulf Shores. Source: Viewer Kerri Nicole Blow
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

I must say that next to tornadoes, lightning also ranks at the top of my list of thunderstorm hazards. That is because there is no way to know where the next bolt of lightning will strike.

There are ways to detect where lightning has occurred and even Mother Nature provides a powerful clue via thunder. Often on these hot summer days you can have localized storms that produce rain while there may also be a ray of sunshine. This can make it very difficult to see cloud to ground lightning but a clap of thunder is a guarantee that lightning is present and you should seek cover.

I'll be the first to tell you that I've been caught in those scenarios of trying to finish yard work or trying to squeeze in some extra beach time as a dark cloud approached. However, one thing I've learned is that when you start hearing thunder it is time to make a move. Did you know that there have been cases where lightning strikes have occurred over 15 miles away from the center of a storm?

NOAA just released a study that determined 64 percent of the lightning related fatalities involved leisure activities between 2006 and 2012. The study also determined that the highest number of victims in this category were struck while fishing. Other individuals where struck while playing golf, camping, walking/running, and even relaxing in their yard.

One thing I love to do is fish and I've been in those scenarios where you search all day for that one place where the fish are really biting. However, when thunder starts rolling I say head towards the boat ramp because there is always tomorrow.

So where do you go if you are far from home? Actually a vehicle can reduce your risk of being struck by lightning but keep in mind only those vehicles that have a metal shell. Some may think it is the rubber tires that protect you but it is the frame of the vehicle that channels the current. Avoid vehicles with fiberglass shells or open shells. Also, if you are in a metal enclosed vehicle lean away from the doors. If you can't reach your vehicle or find a shelter, do not seek shelter under a tree, tent, or open sided picnic area. As a worst case scenario find the lowest spot around and crouch down, avoid being the tallest object in the area.

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