LIGHTNING AND LEISURE: CONSIDERATIONS FOR MINIMIZING YOUR RISKS
Author | Carissa Lord
Lately I’ve been working on hazard mitigation plans for various clients. As per FEMA guidance, these plans must identify the natural hazards that affect the planning area. The risk assessment for each hazard must include a description of the location, extent (strength of magnitude of the hazard), previous occurrences, and the probability of future events. Local plans usually focus on the large scale hazards – flooding, hurricanes, snow, and maybe even tornadoes, depending on where you are in the country. Lightning is sometimes included as a hazard, but until recently, I hadn’t give it much weight.
A recent NOAA study “A Detailed Analysis of Lightning Deaths in the United States from 2006 through 2015”, brought the discussion to the forefront, especially as we spend more time outside during the summer. Here are some fast facts from the study:
- From 2006 through 2015, 313 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States
- 64% (201) of the fatalities were related to outdoor leisure activities
- 16% were related to routine or weekly activities (chores, yard work, walking to work, etc.)
- 15% were related to work (farming/ranching, construction, military, etc.)
- 5% of the fatalities cannot be attributed to a particular activity
During the summer months, we are more likely to be struck by lightning because we spend more of our free time outside (Have you seen all those people playing Pokémon Go in parks across the country?). If most of the lightning fatalities were related to leisure activities (64%), what were these people doing from 2006 through 2015?
Contrary to what you might think, the majority were not golfing. It’s people out on the water that need to be especially aware of stormy weather.
- Fishermen (33) accounted for 4 times as many fatalities as golfers (8)
- Beach goers (18) and campers (17) each accounted for 2 times as many fatalities as golfers (8)
- Men accounted for 79% of all fatalities
Check out the full report here for more details and easy to ready pie charts.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF BEING FATALLY STRUCK BY LIGHTNING?
- Be flexible with your plans if bad weather is predicted
- Check the weather before heading out and monitor for distant thunder. Especially if you are on the water or in an open field
- Don’t wait until the last minute to head to a safe location
- Don’t willingly go out in a lightning storm. Just ask this teenager in New Jersey who got off lucky.
There is a need for continued education to encourage people to understand the risk and get to a safe place when they hear thunder. If you are updating your hazard mitigation plan, consider specific mitigation actions like warning systems or signs at beaches and parks or developing a lightning brochure for distribution by recreation equipment/clothing stores in mountainous areas.
Be aware, plan accordingly, and be safe this summer.
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