Thunderstorms and Lighting
Thunderstorms can bring heavy rains, flash flooding, tornadoes, strong winds, lightning, and hail.
- Flash Floods/Floods are the number one killer associated with thunderstorms with nearly 140 fatalities a year.
- Although thunderstorms in the northwest are less likely to spawn tornadoes than elsewhere in the United States, most wind-related damage caused by thunderstorms is from “straight-line” rather than tornadic winds. “Downbursts,” a type of straight-line wind, can cause damage equivalent to a strong tornado.
- Lightning occurs with all thunderstorms. Its electrical charge and intense heat can electrocute on contact, cause electrical failures, split trees, and ignite structure and brush fires.
- Hail associated with thunderstorms can be smaller than peas or as large as softballs and can be very destructive.
- While some thunderstorms can be seen approaching, others hit without warning. It is important to learn to recognize the danger signs and to plan ahead.
- When thunderstorms are forecast or skies darken, look and listen for
- Dark, towering, or threatening clouds
- Increasing wind
- Flashes of lightning
- The sound of thunder
When a thunderstorm is approaching…
- Secure outdoor objects such as lawn furniture that can blow away and cause damage or injury.
- Bring lightweight objects inside.
- Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest storm information.
- Do not handle any electrical equipment or telephones because lightning could follow the wires.
- Avoid bathtubs, water faucets, and sinks because metal pipes can transmit electricity.
- Pets are particularly sensitive to thunder and hail and should be brought inside.
- Attempt to get into a building or car.
- If no structure is available, get to an open space and squat low to the ground as quickly as possible. (If in the woods, find an area protected by a low clump of trees. Never stand underneath a single large tree in the open.)
- Be aware of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas or drainage.
- Kneel or crouch with hands on knees.
- Avoid tall objects such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines, and power lines.
- Stay away from natural lightning rods such as golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles, and camping equipment.
- Stay away from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.
Lightning is a major threat during a thunderstorm. In the United States, between 75 and 100 people are hit and killed by lightning each year.
Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning can strike the same place twice and may strike it multiple times during the same discharge.
Myth: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
Fact: Lightning has been detected as far as ten miles from the edge of a thunderstorm cell, and at locations with blue skies overhead.
First aid recommendations for lightning victims:
Many lightning victims can actually survive an encounter with lightning, especially with timely medical treatment. A person who has been struck by lightning does not carry an electrical charge that can shock others.
If a person is struck by lightning:
- Call 9-1-1 and provide location and information about the incident including the number of people injured.
- Look for burns where the lightning entered and exited the body.
- If the strike caused the victim’s heart and breathing to stop, give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until medical personnel arrive and take over.
If your house is struck by lightning:
- Check all around the interior and exterior to make sure that it did not start a fire.
- If you smell or see smoke, call 9-1-1.
- All appliances and electrical devices that were plugged in when the lightning struck the house should be checked for damage before being used. Indications of possible damage include scorched outlets, scorch marks on the device, melted cords, and broken light bulbs.