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Lightning Safety Awareness Week: Your chances of being struck, safety & more

Alabama ranks 3rd in the U.S. for lightning fatalities over the last 10 years
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 8:24 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Lightning is often overlooked as a dangerous form of weather as it’s not technically a type of severe weather like hail, damaging wind, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

It’s still a dangerous phenomenon that needs to be taken seriously. It can be as hot as 50,000 degrees after all. That’s why the National Weather Service declared June 20-26 Lightning Safety Awareness Week here in 2021.

Activities with the most lightning deaths from 2006-2018.
Activities with the most lightning deaths from 2006-2018.(WSFA 12 News)

When looking at the statistics, one can see that lightning doesn’t kill as many people per year, on average, as tornadoes, floods, heat, wind, or even rip currents. But one death due to lightning is too many.

The 30-year average (1991-2020) for annual lightning deaths in the U.S. is 39. That number falls to 24 when looking at the 10-year average from 2011-2020. While there has been a downward trend in lightning fatalities over the last several decades, people are still being struck.

States with at least 9 lightning fatalities between 2010 and 2020.
States with at least 9 lightning fatalities between 2010 and 2020.(WSFA 12 News)

The most common months -- in descending order -- for fatal lightning incidents are July, June, August, September, and May. So we are in the middle of that stretch. The most common age group for fatal lightning strikes is 20-49.

Here in Alabama, we are no strangers to lightning. We see it 12 months a year. Not only that, but we see some of the most lightning activity of the entire country during the spring and summer.

From 2010-2020 we rank 3rd in total lightning fatalities in the United States -- behind only Florida and Texas. During that 11-year stretch Alabama recorded 17 lightning deaths and more injuries.

Odds of being hit by lightning based on statistics from 2009-2018.
Odds of being hit by lightning based on statistics from 2009-2018.(WSFA 12 News)

As shown above, your chances of being struck are not very high. Over an average adult lifetime, you have a roughly one in 15,000 chance of being struck by lightning. However, when you look at the odds of someone you know being struck...they jump approximately one in 1,530. That’s a much higher chance.

So what can you do to stay safe?

There are things that may seem like common sense, but there are other tidbits that you may not have known. First, if you are outside and can hear thunder you are close enough to the storm to be struck. Lightning can strike up to 15 miles from a thunderstorm. Always obey the phrase “when thunder roars, go indoors.”

Seek shelter in a vehicle or safe structure like a home if a thunderstorm is within 15 miles of your location. Here’s some helpful tips on what to do...

  • Stay away from windows and doors
  • Stay off corded phones and anything that’s plugged into an outlet
  • Avoid plumbing and concrete walls/floors, if possible
  • If in a vehicle, ensure it has a hard top, roll the windows up and avoid touching anything metal
  • If you cannot get to adequate shelter, avoid open fields, tall objects like trees and water

If someone is struck...

  • It is an emergency so call 911 immediately
  • Most victims can survive lightning strikes
  • Victims do NOT carry an electrical charge
  • CPR or an AED may be needed to revive them
  • Continue monitoring the victim until emergency personnel arrive

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