Severe Weather Awareness Week: all about lightning

Lightning may not come to mind when thinking about severe weather, but it can be very dangerous
Severe Weather Awareness Week: Lightning (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 10:56 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It isn’t technically a type of severe weather, but lightning is a hot topic -- quite literally. It’s one of many discussed each year during Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama. That’s because it is dangerous and can be deadly if not treated with respect.

Lightning isn’t at the top of the deadliest weather-related fatalities chart like flooding, heat, tornadoes, and rip currents; it’s actually in the middle of the pack. That does not mean it should be ignored.

Lightning formation phases.
Lightning formation phases.(WSFA 12 News)

Lightning is responsible for over 20 fatalities every year in the U.S. on average. It injures -- often severely -- hundreds more year after year.

It doesn’t matter where you live when it comes to lightning. It can strike anywhere at any time of year if conditions are right. But there are certainly lightning “hot spots” where lightning is most likely to strike more often. That includes the Southeast, the Plains, the Midwest, and the East Coast. Those are essentially the geographical locations in the U.S. where you’re most likely to encounter multiple thunderstorms in a given year.

Nearly all lightning-related deaths and injuries occur outside. Activities such as swimming, playing sports, roofing, boating, camping, and hanging out at the beach all account for lightning fatalities according to NOAA. What’s interesting is males account for 80% of lightning victims when looking at data from 2006-2018.

Lightning kills 20+ people per year, on average, in the U.S.
Lightning kills 20+ people per year, on average, in the U.S.(WSFA 12 News)

So obviously being outside is not where you want to be when a thunderstorm threatens. It’s advised you seek shelter immediately upon either hearing thunder or seeing lightning. As soon as either one occurs, it’s imperative you head to a well-structured building or hard-topped vehicle. Make sure you avoid electrical appliances, water and metal objects when seeking shelter.

As soon as you get a 30-minute period without thunder and lightning it is safe to return to your activity. Be sure to look in all directions, though, as lightning can strike you upwards of 10 miles from the parent thunderstorm.

Lightning can be very dangerous if you are caught outdoors.
Lightning can be very dangerous if you are caught outdoors.(WSFA 12 News)

If you’re not convinced that lightning is something that needs to be respected, consider these little factoids...

  • Lightning strikes the U.S. more than 25 million times per year
  • Lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun -- upwards of 50,000°F
  • Tall objects like trees are “magnets” for lightning, especially if they are isolated
  • The current from a lightning strike can travel between groups of people if they are close enough
  • Water and metal don’t attract lightning strikes, but the current from a lightning flash can travel for a long distance through water and metal objects
  • Lightning can often strike the same location or object multiple times per year
  • A typical lightning flash is about 300 million Volts and about 30,000 Amps; in comparison, household current is 120 Volts and 15 Amps

Copyright 2022 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.