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Lightning Safety: Protect Yourself
03.01.07
 
Among Florida's weather dangers, lightning is the number-one killer. Only floods cause more fatalities nationwide. But according to William Roeder, a meteorologist with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron, the real story of lightning isn't the deaths.

"It's the injuries," explains Roeder. "Ninety percent (of victims) survive, but many suffer lifelong debilitating injuries."

The 45th Weather Squadron monitors weather at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the east coast of Central Florida. A two-tiered lightning warning system keeps spaceport personnel informed of dangerous conditions. "Phase one" lightning watches sound the alert for specific locations thirty minutes before lightning is expected within five nautical miles. If the storms continue to grow or move closer, a "phase two" lightning warning is issued, meaning lightning is imminent or already present.

But lightning safety is important for everyone -- and lives can be saved if each of us remembers a few simple guidelines.

There is no safe place outdoors when thunderstorms are in your area. Lightning safety is simple: Know when you are in danger and where to go for safety.

The "30-30" rule
When you see lightning flash, count the number of seconds until you hear its thunder. If the thunder rolls in 30 seconds or less, the storm is already close enough to be dangerous; if you're not already in a safe place, it's past time to find one. After the storm, remain indoors for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

"The biggest peak (in lightning casualties) is afterward," Roeder says. "People are going back outside in too much of a hurry."

To teach lightning safety to children, he suggests the slogan, "When thunder roars, go indoors!"

Where to go
The safest shelter is a large, fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing, such as a typical house, school, store or public building. If none of these are available, the next best option is any vehicle that has a solid metal roof and solid metal sides, like the average car, bus or truck.

Safety indoors
Once inside, avoid any conducting path to the outside. Don't use a corded phone; only use a cordless phone if you are away from the base station (where the phone is recharged). Stay away from televisions, computers and appliances. Plumbing is equally dangerous.

"Metal pipes, or plastic pipes with metal in them, are conducting paths to the outside," Roeder emphasizes. "People have been shocked doing the dishes, or killed while taking a shower during a thunderstorm."

Lightning Safety Awareness Week
To raise awareness and promote lightning safety education, the National Weather Service sponsors Lightning Safety Awareness Week during the last full week of June.
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