Severe Weather Handbook: Lightning safety

Severe Weather Handbook

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) As we approach the summer months, the temperatures and humidity levels rise—and so do the chances of thunderstorms. When it comes to the threats, you always hear about wind, hail and tornadoes. But what about lightning?

It strikes the United States about 25 million times per year.

“When thunder roars, go indoors,” said John Banghoff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College.

It’s a common phrase Banghoff reminds people of this time of year. As thunderstorms near your home, so does the threat of lightning striking the ground. Even if the storm may seem far enough away, it’s a risk you don’t want to take.

“Another rule of thumb that we need to use is—you need to stay inside thirty minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder because that’s going to allow the storm to clear out and ensure you are safe to return to your outdoor activities,” said Banghoff.

Southern states like Florida tend to have the highest amount of lightning strikes per year but how exactly does the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania compare?

“Across the central mountains, there’s a little bit fewer lightning strikes. As you head farther east, as you head up towards Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, even southeast towards Philadelphia, that’s where you get a little bit higher likelihood of lightning,” said Banghoff.

Let’s say you happen to be outdoors as a thunderstorm approaches, remembering that taller objects tend to get struck first…

In that case:

  • Get to the lowest area or ground level.
  • Never hide under an isolated tree.
  • Stay away from cliffs, rocky overhangs, fences and windmills.
  • And never be near or in a body of water.

…but what about if you’re in a vehicle?

If you’re in a car, you want to make sure you remain in the car and don’t touch anything that’s metal—or the windows. The idea is that metal will conduct electricity and if the car does get struck by lightning, it could be charged.

Now we typically hear the term ‘heat lightning’ during the summer months. Is that a common myth or is that actually a fact?

“People tend to associate, ‘Oh, it’s warm. It’s muggy outside. I’m seeing light. That must be heat lightning.’ Kind of true, but there is always thunder with lightning and you may just not be able to hear the thunder because the storm is so far away,” said Banghoff.

You can find more from our Severe Weather Handbook here.

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