Lightning Safety Week: June 24-30


Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
Contact: Merni Fitzgerald, Director of Public Affairs
703-324-3187, TTY 711, Fax 703-324-2010
Media Pager: 703-324-NEWS (6397)
publicaffairs@fairfaxcounty.gov

June 8, 2007

Lightning Safety Week: June 24-30

The National Weather Service will recognize Lightning Safety Week June 24-30. This year’s theme is “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.”

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena – lightning. In the United States, an average of 66 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2006, there were 47 confirmed deaths and 246 confirmed injuries.

No place is absolutely safe from lightning; however, some places are much safer than others. The safest location during lightning activity is a large enclosed building, not a picnic shelter or shed. The second safest location is an enclosed metal vehicle, car, truck or van, but not a convertible, bike or other topless or soft-top vehicle.

Enclosed buildings are safe because of wiring and plumbing. If lightning strikes these types of buildings, or an outside telephone pole, the electrical current from the flash will typically travel through the wiring or the plumbing into the ground. This is why you should stay away from showers, sinks, hot tubs and electronic equipment such as TVs, radios and computers.

Unsafe buildings include: carports, covered but open garages, covered patio, picnic shelters, beach shacks/pavilions, golf shelters, camping tents, large outdoor tents, baseball dugouts and other small buildings such as sheds and greenhouses that do not have electricity or plumbing.

People struck by lightning can suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression and an inability to sit for long.

For more information on lightning safety, visit the National Weather Service Lightning Safety Web page at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm.

What Should You Do?
When a safe location is nearby, seek safe shelter when you first hear thunder, see dark threatening clouds developing overhead or lightning. Count the seconds between the time you see lightning and hear the thunder. You should already be in a safe location if that time is less than 30 seconds. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you last hear thunder. To estimate the distance between you and a lightning flash, use the “Flash to Bang” method. If you observe lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles. Example: If you see lightning and it takes 10 seconds before you hear the thunder, then the lightning is 2 miles away (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles).

Outdoors
If you cannot get to a safe vehicle or shelter during a lightning storm, follow these tips that could slightly lessen the odds that you will get hit.

  • Do not seek shelter under tall isolated trees. The tree may help you stay dry but will significantly increase your risk of being struck by lightning.
  • Do not seek shelter under partially enclosed buildings.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated objects. Lightning typically strikes the tallest object. That may be you in an open field or clearing.
  • Stay away from metal objects, such as fences, poles and backpacks. Metal is an excellent conductor and the current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.
  • As a precaution, do not place your campsite in an open field on the top of a hill or on a ridge top. Keep your site away from tall isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees. If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. A tent offers no protection from lighting.

Inside Your Home

  • Avoid contact with corded phones.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes and do not do laundry.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.

On the Water
The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats without a cabin. If you are out on the water and skies are threatening, get back to land and find a safe building or vehicle. Boats with cabins offer a safer, but not perfect environment. If you are on a small vessel and lightning becomes a threat, then you should properly anchor the boat and get as low as possible. Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed or metal marine vessels are relatively safe, however, remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces.

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For more news and information, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news.

Fairfax County is committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in all county programs, services and activities. To request this information in an alternate format, call the Office of Public Affairs at 703-324-3187, TTY 711.

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