NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Here in Tennessee, tornado warnings are a top priority in people’s minds. However, lightning is a much more common occurrence, and is a threat to more people when they are outdoors.
Just last week a woman was killed by lightning just outside of Montgomery, Alabama, while picking blueberries from a bush in her own yard.
The recent death made the 23rd due to lightning this year alone nationwide.
In Tennessee, there have been six deaths since 2005, and 140 fatalities since 1959. That ranks seventh out of the 50 states for that 56 year period.
Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are issued for winds 58 mph or higher and/or 1 inch or larger hail.
However, every “thunderstorm” has lightning. That is why lightning is not one of the parameters for a Severe Thunderstorms Warning. It takes only one bolt to kill someone.
There are precautions one can take, but the biggest is simply to get indoors once you hear thunder. That sounds basic, but that eliminates most of the danger. But, what if you are caught outdoors and cannot make it to a safe place?
When a safe location is not nearby:
- If you absolutely cannot get to safety, you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck with the following tips. But don’t kid yourself–you are NOT safe outside. Know the weather patterns of the area you plan to visit. For example, in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day and be down the mountain by noon.
- Listen to the weather forecast for the outdoor area you plan to visit. The forecast may be very different from the one near your home. If there is a high chance of thunderstorms, stay inside.
Places to avoid:
- Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
- Stay 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 in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
- If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers no protection from lighting.
- Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.
On the water:
- The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with no cabin. It is crucial to listen to weather information when you are boating. If thunderstorms are forecast, do not go out.
- If you are out and cannot get back to land and safety, drop anchor 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. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces. Stay off the radio unless it is an emergency!
- If you are on a small boat with no cabin, it would be best to head for shore as quickly as possible.
For more information, visit lightningsafety.noaa.gov/safety.