When Thunder Roars, Get Indoors

On a stormy afternoon in 1969, lightning travelled through an underground speaker and struck a bank teller in the back. The bolt climbed the man’s spine, hit his brain and exited his right hand, which held a metal teller stamp.

Four decades and 46 surgeries later, the man still suffers back pain and migraines related to the incident. His traumatic experience inspired him to launch a support group, Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors.

We’ve learned a lot about the dangers of lightning since 1969. The evidence is in the numbers; fatalities have decreased about 76 percent.

Still, lightning strikes are on pace to more than double the average in recent years. Texas Mutual encourages everyone to take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Who’s at risk?
About 86 percent of people struck by lightning are men, and about two-thirds are enjoying a leisure activity when lightning strikes. Statistics suggest fishing presents the biggest risk, followed by playing on the beach and camping.

On the clock, farming and ranching account for the lion’s share – 33 percent – of lighting strike fatalities. Construction and roofing each account for 12 percent, followed by lawn care at 9 percent.

Just last month, an electrical transformer at the Valero Texas City oil refinery plant caught fire after being struck by lightning. Firefighters could not douse the fire with water due to the potential danger from electrical shock. They could only contain the fire to the transformer and allow the blaze to burn itself out.

Did you hear that?
Most people who are injured or killed by lightning are not struck directly, but rather when the bolt lands nearby. To estimate how close you are to lightning, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder, and then divide that number by 5. That’s how many miles away the strike is.

Lightning by the Numbers
25 million – Average U.S. cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year
50,000 degrees (F) – Temperature that lightning can reach
1,800 – Average number of thunderstorms on earth at any given moment
100 – Number of times lightning hits earth per second
5-10 miles – Distance lightning can strike away from a thunderstorm
Source: National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration

If math isn’t your strong suit, that’s okay. Just remember this simple guideline: If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.

When thunder roars, get indoors
If you are outside when thunderstorms are in the area, you are not safe. When you hear thunder, immediately move to a safe shelter, such as a substantial building or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up. Stay there at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

When you get inside, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets. Steer clear of windows and doors, and stay off porches. Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Caught outside?
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter nearby, follow these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges and peaks.
  • Never lie flatly on the ground.
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as barbed wire fences, power lines and windmills.

September is National Preparedness Month
Severe weather, flooding, fires and other disasters claim lives and affect businesses. In fact, approximately 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a disaster. In September, regulatory agencies and safety professionals urge everyone to prepare their homes and their businesses for disasters. Texas Mutual offers a free disaster preparedness video on its Work Safe, Texas website. You can also visit ready.gov for a four-step disaster preparedness process.

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