(Riverton, Wyo.) – The National Weather Service is using lightning safety week, June 22-28, to better inform outdoor enthusiasts about the dangers of lightning. Although recent statistics indicate that lightning-related deaths are decreasing, there are certain activities that have shown to be more deadly than others.
“Already this year in Wyoming we have had one injury from a lightning strike,” said Chris Jones, warning coordination meteorologist at the Riverton NWS office. “Per capita, Wyoming remains the leader in lightning deaths nationwide and it is the most deadly weather phenomena in our state.”
Jones said recent awareness campaigns have helped reduce fatalities and injuries from lightning.
“The decrease in the number of lightning-caused deaths over the last several decades is encouraging,” Jones said. “Forty years ago the annual number of people killed from lightning exceeded 100. In 2013, that number reached an all-time low at 23. While one death is too many, the trend tells us that people are taking lightning more seriously.”
Prior to the first lightning safety campaign in 2001, lightning killed an average of 73 people each year in the United States. Since that time the average has dropped to 35. NWS statistics indicate that since 2006 nearly two-thirds of lightning deaths occurred while people were participating in leisure activities. Fishing topped that list with nearly 30 deaths over that time span.
Jones said lightning deaths related to outdoor activities like fishing, camping, boating, and hiking may occur because these activities require extra time to get to a safe place. “People need to seek safe shelter or head for shore when dark clouds build and begin moving in their direction. Not doing so puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” he said.
Thunderstorm activity is most common in the afternoon hours, usually triggering first over the mountains. The NWS strongly encourages people to time their activities to avoid being too far from indoor shelter or a vehicle when lightning strikes. “The challenge in Wyoming is that adequate indoor shelter is difficult to find when recreating in the backcountry. Often times the best thing is to avoid being put in a dangerous situation in the first place.”
To avoid being struck by lightning, the NWS recommends that you:
• Get into a fully enclosed building or hardtop vehicle at the first rumble of thunder;
• Stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last thunder clap;
• Monitor the weather forecast when you’re planning to be outdoors;
• Have a plan for getting to safety in case a thunderstorm moves in;
• Do not use a corded phone during a thunderstorm unless it’s an emergency; cell phones are safe to use;
• Keep away from plumbing, electrical equipment and wiring during a thunderstorm.
Jones said anyone, especially those planning extended outdoor activities, can always check the latest NWS forecast online at weather.gov/riverton or call 1-800-211-1448 to speak directly with a meteorologist about their outdoor plans.
–Provided by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Riverton
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NOAA’s National Weather Service Lightning Safety Week, click here.