Special Report: Lightning Strike Spotter

Special Report: Lightning Strike Spotter

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - From baseball to softball to just BBQs, more and more people are spending time outside. But if you aren't careful, Mother Nature can give you big problems, and can even be fatal.

Every year there are millions of lightning strikes, and thousands of them are right here in Alabama. Just a few weeks ago a woman in Cullman County was hit in her driveway. She suffered burns but will be ok.

For some, the sight of lighting and the sound of thunder can be terrifying, and there is a good reason for that. Each and every strike of lightning can be potential deadly.

Lightning is a natural electric discharge of short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or a cloud to another cloud. Annually, there are about 25 million strikes in the United States; on average, 51 people a year die and hundreds more are injured.

The latest figures show Alabama had 10 deaths over the last nine years. That ranks our state 10th in the nation for fatalities. States that surround Alabama did not do much better: Tennessee is ranked 22nd while Mississippi comes in at 15th, Georgia is 5th, and Florida is listed as number one with 47 deaths since 2005.

Zaki Davis was almost a statistic. Davis and a friend were hit by lightning while changing a tire on a car.

"I just know, when I left, I couldn't move my legs," Davis explained. "That is the worst feeling you can ever feel in your life. Being shocked by electricity is nothing compared to being struck by lightning."

Last summer, youth football coach Jonathan Aplin had a close call while outdoors with dozens of kids.

"My leg started tingling," said Aplin. "All of a sudden the hairs on my leg stood straight out...It felt like the atmosphere was charging itself up to do something."

He was right. Hair standing up is a telltale sign lightning is imminent.

"We got about 50 feet and that's when lightning popped the tree behind us," Aplin went on.

The National Weather Service and NOAA did a detailed look at lighting deaths from 2006 to 2013. Overall, there were 30 fishing deaths, 16 camping, 14 boating, and 13 beach deaths. Fisherman were three times as likely as golfers to get hit by lightning, but soccer had the most lightning fatalities total.

It is not just those who play sports who are at risk. Those who working outside for a living are also in danger. Overall, farmers were at the most risk, followed by construction workers.

The study also found that males made up 81 percent of the deaths. The age group 20 to 29 had the highest odds of being struck by lightning. Many of these deaths (70 percent) happened during the summer between June and August. Also, the vast majority of incidents happened on a Saturday.

So what can you do to better prepare and not become a statistic? Well if you own a business, lightning detection has now become a vital resource to protect those who are outdoors. Mike Beverly, the director of golf at Capitol Hill takes lightning safety serious.

"We all know the stories going back to guys on tour - Lee Trevino was struck by lightning," said Beverly. "It's an imminent and life-threatening danger to have guys out on the course during a lightning storm."

Capitol Hill has spent thousands of dollars on lightning detection and prediction equipment to help keep their golfers safe from the elements.

"Live to play another day is what I always say." said Beverly "Why would you want to risk it?"

The big price tag of a commercial lightning detection is not feasible for the everyday coach or weekend warrior. A cheaper alternative is a handheld lightning detector; they are reasonably accurate and cost less than $100.

You can also use the WSFA 12 Weather App to help keep you safe. It already has live radar, current conditions, and your updated forecast. The app also has live lightning data. To get it you'll need to click on the map, then the bottom right button. From there, touch lightning to turn it on, then the back button.

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