Lightning Safety Week, June 24-30, 2012

(June 2012)

When thunder roars, go indoors! That's advice from the National Weather Service.

Contrary to some textbooks, Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity. What he did discover is that lightning contains static electricity. And he was very lucky that he wasn’t electrocuted during this discovery. For information on Franklin’s experiment, check out the story at www.codecheck.com.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “an average of 54 people are reported killed each year by lightning. ... To date, there have been three deaths in 2012." Almost 75 percent of people killed by lightning strikes were in the outdoors, doing activities such as working, hiking, camping, or enjoying watersports during a thunderstorm.

The National Weather Service publishes some facts about lightning:

  • Lightning can heat up the air to 50,000°F, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • Lightning can pack a whopping 1 million volts of electricity, which is more than any nuclear power plant.
  • Lightning can travel up to five to 10 miles horizontally before it strikes the ground or any object that gets in its path.
  • In an average year, there are 25 million lightning flashes in the United States.   

Since we have many Scouting activities in the outdoors, Scouts and leaders should be prepared to seek shelter as quickly as possible when thunderstorms approach. Adult leaders should renew their understanding of lightning by taking the BSA's Hazardous Weather training (available online through myscouting.org).

Here are a few tips to remember if you are outdoors:

  • Getting underneath trees, pavilions without walls, or even in tents is NOT safe. Because more modern tents are being made with carbon fiber or metal poles, a tent can actually become a grounding path for a cloud-to-ground lightning strike. 
  • Get inside a building with a roof, walls, and floors or a hard-topped vehicle as quickly as possible. 

If you outside and away from buildings or cars, then follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid open fields, the top of ridges, or hills.
  • Stay away from water, metal fences, telephone or power lines. or towers.
  • If you are in the backcountry or wilderness, get off the mountain as quickly (and safely) as possible. Going to the opposite side of the mountain, from where the clouds are approaching, will help.

And be prepared to administer first aid to victims of lightning strikes. Victims can have a variety of symptoms, so be prepared to get help, administer CPR, or treat burns and trauma. Backcountry or wilderness activities should apply Wilderness First Aid techniques.

For more information about lightning safety, go to www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov or www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/ploutdoor.htm.