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Weekend storms biggest threat to your life: Lightning
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Weekend storms biggest threat to your life: Lightning

Weekend storms biggest threat to your life: Lightning
Photo Credit: Mike Morris, Atlanta Journal Constitution
Lightning strikes near Union High School's Tuttle stadium during a 1997 drum corps competition.

Weekend storms biggest threat to your life: Lightning

The storms this weekend carry threats like large hail, damaging winds and even the potential for tornadoes.

But, you are much more likely to be injured or killed by the threat that seems to get mentioned the least: lightning.

On average, lightning kills 58 people a year in the U.S. and injures more than 300.

"Lightning just decided to find my umbrella."

It happened to Lynda Eubanks in 2004.

She remembers a big blue flash.

"And, I remember, the hand that was holding my umbrella felt like it exploded.

National Weather Service meteorologist Nicole McGavock says lightning can strike at least 10 miles ahead of a thunderstorm.

McGavock says, "No place outdoors is safe when there is lightning in the area."

So, if you can hear it, fear it.

Eight years later, Lynda Eubanks still has lingering neurological effects.

But, the most lasting effect is a respect for the power of lightning.

"You know, you just always have to be watching and you always have to be careful."

The National Severe Storms Laboratory offers these tips for surviving a lightning storm:

While it is difficult to quantify lightning losses, it is estimated that $4-5 billion damage occurs each year. Likewise, the cost of lightning protection to safeguard critical equipment and facilities from lightning strikes during severe weather is enormous.

According to the National Weather Service, during the past 30 years (1979-2008) lightning killed an average of 58 people each year.

Documented injuries average about 300 per year, although undocumented injuries are likely to be much higher. Most casualties result from inappropriate behavior during thunderstorms, particularly when people are caught outdoors during recreation or organized sports.

Being aware of - and following - proven lightning safety guidelines can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death.

Cloud-to-ground lightning can kill and injure people by direct or indirect means. It is not known if all people are killed who are directly struck by the flash itself.

The lightning current can branch off to a person from a tree, fence, pole, or other tall object.

In addition, flashes may conduct their current through the ground to a person after the flash strikes a nearby tree, antenna, or other tall object.

The current also may travel through power or telephone lines to a person who is in contact with electric appliances, tools, electronics, or a corded telephone.

Lightning can also travel through plumbing pipes and water to a person in contact either with a plumbing fixture or a person in water, including bathtubs, pools, and the running water of a shower.

Damage to the human body:

Lightning affects the many electrochemical systems in the body. People struck by lightning can suffer from nerve damage, memory loss, personality change, and emotional problems.

There is a national support group for lightning and electric shock survivors.

An example is some single nerve cells, such as those extending from the brain to the foot, can be as long as 6 feet or more.

These types of cells are most prone to lightning damage due to the instantaneous potential difference across the length of the cell as lightning begins to enter the body.

The intense heat of the lightning stroke can turn sweat instantly to steam and the tremendous pressure of the steam has been known to blow people's boots, shoes, and clothing off them.

In places where metal is in contact with or close proximity to the body, such as jewelry or belt buckles, burn marks are found. Likewise, burn marks are found in places where the body had been sweaty, such as the feet, underarms, and chest.

The best defense is plan ahead and avoid exposure to lightning when a thunderstorm occurs.

Know where safe shelter is located and leave enough time to reach safe shelter before your danger level is high.

Don't be an isolated tall object, and don't be connected to anything that may be an isolated tall object.

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