What are the dangers of lightning?

Monday is Day 1 of Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week

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Lightning splitting the sky

MIAMI - In cooperation with the National Weather Service, state and local emergency management agencies and the American Red Cross, the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 3 has been proclaimed Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week. This week is designed to teach Floridians about the dangers of the different types of hazardous weather found in Florida.

If you live in Florida, you no doubt know where the lightning belt sits in the Sunshine State.  Reports show that the highest frequency of cloud–to-ground lightning is between Tampa and Orlando. Mainly, this occurs during the wet season in the summer where we have abundant moisture, high surface temps leading to sea breeze development.  It is then that the radar lights up with lightning strikes across the state.

Being outdoors when thunderstorms are nearby involves risk and certain locations are worse than others.  Of the lightning casualty cases in the United States in which the location of the incident was reported, about 48 percent occurred in open fields, ballparks or playgrounds. Another 23 percent occurred under trees, about 12 percent involved water-related activities and about 6 percent involved golfing. People driving farm equipment or other heavy equipment accounted for about 7 percent.

To minimize the threat of being struck by lightning while outdoors, it is important to know when the lightning threat begins to increase significantly and when the threat is reduced to minimal levels. In general, the threat begins well before most people think it begins and ends well after people think it ends. Unfortunately, it is this lack of understanding that accounts for many lightning casualties. By using some basic rules, you can greatly reduce your risk of becoming a lightning casualty:

  • No. 1:  Plan ahead. If thunderstorms are forecast, consider canceling or postponing outdoor activities so that you avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
  • No. 2: Monitor the weather conditions. Watch the sky for any signs of a developing or approaching storm.
  • No. 3: If the sky looks threatening or you see lightning or hear thunder, immediately seek safety in a substantial building. If a substantial building is not available, take shelter in a hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows rolled up. Remain in your shelter for at least 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning is seen or the last clap of thunder is heard.
  • No. 4: If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm and cannot find shelter, you should try to minimize your risk of being struck by lightning. Avoid tall objects such as tall trees and poles and avoid things that conduct electricity, such as metal bleachers or wire fences. Small structures such as those found on athletic fields, parks, golf courses, picnic areas and school yards are not designed to protect people from lightning. Lightning can also travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing and radio or television systems and through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Stay safe with these helpful tools.

Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.