Severe weather strikes up Lightning Awareness Week

By: James Hopkins Email
By: James Hopkins Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - With the arrival of Summer comes severe weather across Colorado and the nation, which is why the National Weather Service is hosting Lightning Awareness Week.

Lightning strikes the ground in our state more than 500,000 times each year and with many of us participating in outdoor activities, we need to learn how to protect ourselves from it.

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena, lightning. On average, lightning kills more people than hurricanes or tornadoes. "The purpose of Lightning Awareness Week is to help people make the right decisions so we have fewer people getting struck," says Jim Pringle of the National Weather Service.

In 2008, Colorado tied with Florida for the most lightning deaths in the country at four. In 2006, we led the nation with six.

National Weather Service officials say the key to safety is to choose your shelter wisely. "Get inside a sturdy building or a vehicle with a metal roof," says Pringle. These shelters provide a "cage" for the lightning to travel around you. Keeping you safe from the powerful shock.

One of the biggest mistakes people can make is taking shelter under a tree. "Trees provide shelter from the rain but increase your chances of getting struck by lightning," says Pringle.

People react differently to lightning strikes. "From almost nothing to full blown cardiac arrest," says ER Doctor Joe Kupets. Ninety percent of the people who are struck by lightning actually survive, but many are left with permanent disabilities. "Neurological damage, people can become more permanently confused or can no longer multitask after they had the injury," says Kupets.

Some businesses, like Lincoln Park Moyer Pool, realize the severity of lightning and its potential for danger. "We have major issues because the water is treated and full of electrolytes," says Pool Manager Pete Ashman. This increased risk is why they have a plan in place to keep everyone safe. "If we see a flash and within 20 seconds we hear a bang that means it's within four miles and we clear the pool," says Ashman.

The National Weather Service has created a Lightning Potential Index to help you prepare. It gives a two day forecast for lightning strikes for the Western Slope and Eastern Utah.

Lightning can travel up to 20 miles in front of a storm, so just because the sky is clear overhead, that doesn't mean it's safe if you hear thunder. Click on the links below under 'Related Links' for more information and for the Lightning Potential index.

And if you're ever caught in a storm, the National Weather Service has a catchy phrase to help you remember what to do. "When thunder roars, go indoors," Pringle says.

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