Severe Weather Awareness Week, Tuesday: Lightning the Underrated Killer


It’s Severe Weather Awareness Week in TN! Today’s topic is Lightning, the Underrated Killer.

Lightning forms when the charge between negative and positive charges becomes too great. This causes the insulating capacity of air to break down, which produces a rapid discharge of electricity. This giant spark of electricity is lightning! Lighting can strike from the cloud to ground or cloud to cloud. We hear thunder after lightning strikes because lightning heats the air so incredibly fast, the air expands and we hear the sound waves.

Lightning can reach a temperature near 50,000 F. This is hotter than the surface of the sun!

Lightning is considered to be the underrated killer. The National Weather Service reports an average of 47 people a year are killed by lightning and hundreds more are injured.

80% of these fatalities are men.

Both genders are more likely to be participating leisure activities when struck.

Most fatalities occur Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This makes sense since people are more likely to be participating in leisure activities outside over the weekend.

Both Tennessee and North Carolina are included in the top ten states with the most lightning fatalities a year.

NOAA( 1959-2016 )

Tennessee is ranked as #8 in terms of lightning related fatalities a year. Florida clocks in at #1 with 498 deaths reported from 1959-2016.

The New York Times reported 3 golfers at Warrior’s Path State Park who were taking shelter under a tree during a storm were struck and killed on July 3rd, 1987. 

If you can hear thunder, or see flashes, you are close enough to get struck and need to seek safety immediately.

If you are able to go indoors, take shelter inside immediately. Stay off corded electronics that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumping such as faucets, sinks, bath and showers. It is also important to stay away from windows.

If you are unable to get indoors and being outside is your only option, it is important to pay attention to your surroundings. You do not want to take shelter under tall or isolated objects. Get to the lowest lying area. Stay out of water and never lay flat on the ground. 

Common Myths
“Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” This is false! It is actually very common lightning strikes the same place twice, especially tall, isolated objects. In fact, the Empire State Building gets struck an average of 23 times a year!

“If it’s not raining or cloudy, I am safe from lightning.” False! Even though you may be experiencing blue skies, lightning can strike up to 10-15 miles away from a storm. Lightning has also been recorded to have struck 90 miles away from a storm in Florida! If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck. 

“If a person is struck by lightning, you should not touch them because you can get shocked.” False again! Human bodies do not store electricity. You will not be shocked if you touch a lightning strike victim and should assist them immediately. 

Stay informed with Storm Team 11 on-air, online, and through our WJHL Weather App available for download in your app store.

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