June 19, 2006
This week the National Weather Service in collaboration with state Departments of Emergency Management are sponsoring Lightning Awareness Week. The hope is that people will understand lightning risks and take the proper precautions.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are approximately 66 lightning-related deaths in the U.S. each year. Last year alone, 43 people were confirmed dead and 172 injured. With severe weather season in full swing, it's important to address lightning safety.
"We try to bring focus on lightning safety during this time of year because lightning strikes are more prevalent," explained James Barber of the Albemarle County Fire Marshal’s Office.
In June, 2005, five campers were injured by lightning while camping at Loft Mountain campsite, but so far this year , no reports have been confirmed in Albemarle County. However, don't think it can't happen to you, because lightning can strike up to 15 miles away in any direction from a storm.
"If there's been a lightning strike in that area a lot of people think, 'well, lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place,' and that's a misconception, so it's important to seek shelter in a substantial building or in a vehicle," said Barber.
If a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is issued and you are caught outside in a storm, the best thing you want to do is make yourself as small as possible, like lying in a ditch. Mr. Barber only suggests this as a last resort.
"It's important to seek shelter under a low-lying tree. If you see a grove of trees, don't go to the tree that's the tallest; again, lightning can strike that tall tree and travel through the ground for up to 50 or more," added Barber.
Due to the dry conditions here in Central Virginia, the main threat from lightning this summer will be starting fires, so keep an eye to the sky and know what to do if you see or hear a storm coming.
For more information on Lightning Safety Awareness Week, click on news links.