Lightning Safety Myths and Facts

March 6, 2021

Check out some lightning Myths versus Facts from the National Weather Service

Myth: If you’re caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.
Fact: Crouching doesn’t make you any safer outdoors. Run to a substantial building or hard topped vehicle. If you are too far to run to one of these options, you have no good alternative. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors.

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year

Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Don’t lean on doors during a thunderstorm.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.
Fact: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough. No game is worth death or life-long injuries. Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder. Adults are responsible for the safety of children.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter – don’t waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Myth: lightning flashes are 3-4 km apart
Fact: Old data said successive flashes were on the order of 3-4 km apart. New data shows half the flashes are about 9 km apart. The National Severe Storms Laboratory report concludes: “It appears the safety rules need to be modified to increase the distance from a previous flash which can be considered to be relatively safe, to at least 10 to 13 km (6 to 8 miles). In the past, 3 to 5 km (2-3 miles) was as used in lightning safety education.” Source: Separation Between Successive Lightning Flashes in Different Storms Systems: 1998, Lopez & Holle, from Proceedings 1998 Intl Lightning Detection Conference, Tucson AZ, November 1998.

Myth: A High Percentage of Lightning Flashes Are Forked.
Fact: Many cloud-to-ground lightning flashes have forked or multiple attachment points to earth. Tests carried out in the US and Japan verify this finding in at least half of negative flashes and more than 70% of positive flashes. Many lightning detectors cannot acquire accurate information about these multiple ground lightning attachments. Source: Termination of Multiple Stroke Flashes Observed by Electro- Magnetic Field: 1998, Ishii, et al. Proceedings 1998 Int’l Lightning Protection Conference, Birmingham UK, Sept. 1998.

Myth: Lightning Can Spread out Some 60 Feet After Striking Earth.
Fact: Radial horizontal arcing has been measured at least 20 m. from the point where lightning hits ground. Depending on soils characteristics, safe conditions for people and equipment near lightning termination points (ground rods) may need to be re-evaluated. Source: 1993 Triggered Lightning Test Program: Environments Within 20 meters of the Lightning Channel and Small Are Temporary Protection Concepts: 1993, SAND94-0311, Sandia Natl Lab, Albuquerque NM.

Find some Lightning Safety tips here and download a free 67-page PDF portion of our preparedness and first aid ebook.

Resources:

• National Weather Service Lightning Safety

• NWS Toolkit for Counties and Communities, Stadiums, Parks and Large Venues, and Golf Courses

• NWS Tools for Teachers  


Monsoon IV (incredible video by Mike Olbinski)

October 29, 2017

We have shared some storm chasing videos and photos by the talented and Emmy Award winning Mike Olbinski over the years in our enews and on social media.

Olbinski’s storm time-lapse and fine art work has been published nationally and internationally, seen in Arizona Highways magazines, weather calendars, movies, documentaries, commercials and television shows.

Mike is based out of Arizona (our old stomping grounds for almost 20 years) so we truly appreciate his ability to capture the annual monsoon.

For those of you who have never been in the southwestern U.S. desert, monsoon runs from June 15th through September 30th and it produces some awesome cloud formations, spectacular lightning shows, massive dust storms (a.k.a. haboobs), flash floods and more.

Mr. Olbinski explains his latest video masterpiece, Monsoon IV, was compiled from footage taken during his 13,000 miles of chasing across Arizona during this summer’s 2017 monsoon, as well as a few places in bordering California and New Mexico. Mike shot over 110,000 frames of time-lapse and says likely only half of it ended up in the final cut. He also says the music in this video is all custom, thanks to the amazing work of Peter Nanasi.

Watch Mike’s incredible Monsoon IV video below and see more of Olbinski’s videos on Vimeo and follow him on his Storm blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Monsoon IV (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

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NASA video: A Display of Lights Above the Storm

October 13, 2017

Check out this cool video by NASA explaining Transient Luminous Events or basically flashes and glows called blue jets, red sprites and other TLEs that appear above storms.

Blue jets pulse from the tops of intense thunderstorms and reach up toward the edge of space. Red sprites are glows in the upper atmosphere, tied to the presence of large lightning flashes but not attached to the clouds themselves.

The ISS has afforded astronauts the opportunity to photograph a number of natural light shows produced at the tops of thunderstorms as seen in below video…

For more science from above the clouds visit www.nasa.gov/station and see more cool lightning posts here


Tornadoes don’t usually happen in December … or do they?

December 27, 2012

Christmas Day tornado damageThis past weekend the National Weather Service and others were forecasting wicked storms and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast for Christmas day, and sadly those predictions were spot on.

Preliminary reports say 34 tornadoes touched down across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during Tuesday’s outbreak although that total will probably be revised downward as duplicate reports are discovered.

But if you listen to anchors on the news or read the comments on weather stories like we do, many were saying tornadoes in December is not normal or it’s due to global warming, etc. (sigh)

Actually … tornadoes happen in the U.S. year round. Most tornadoes obviously occur during the spring and early summer months, but December twisters are not as rare as people think.

The following chart shows the number of tornado reports listed in NOAA’s National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center’s Annual Severe Weather Report Summaries for 2000 through 2012. (Note: 2012 data is through Dec 19th so does not include the 34 preliminary reported tornadoes on Christmas day.)

US Tornadoes by month 2000 thru 2013

If you run your finger across the month of December, you’ll see a few wild variations. There were 99 tornadoes in Dec 2002 but only 1 in 2003 … and the 13-year average for December is 35 so tornadoes DO happen throughout the year and it’s just part of Mother Nature’s mood swings. When warm moist air in the south or southeast collides with winter cold fronts, bad things can happen.

tornado and lightning

Interesting tornado statistics

  • The U.S. has more tornado sightings than any other place in the world and averages about 1,300 tornadoes each year.
  • The last time a number of tornadoes impacted the Gulf Coast area around Christmas Day was in 2009, when 22 tornadoes occurred during the morning of December 24th.
  • According to the National Weather Service (NWS), at least one killer tornado has occurred during the month of December in 8 of the last 20 years. Over the entire official record, at least one killer tornado has been recorded in December almost every other year (27 out of 61 years).
  • The highest recorded tornado occurred in 2004 over Rockwell Pass in California’s Sequoia National Park at about 12,000 to 12,500 feet.
  • Tornadoes can last for several seconds or more than an hour, but most last less than 10 minutes.
  • The force of a tornado can strip asphalt chunks off roads, rip clothes off people and pluck feathers off chickens.

The most important thing to do year round wherever you live is to pay attention to forecasts, keep a NOAA Weather Radio handy when nasty weather is brewing, and learn what to do before, during and after various types of emergencies and disasters.

Feel free to download and share some free preparedness and safety tips about tornadoes, flooding, winter storms and more from our IT’S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? book

Additional resources:

NOAA Tornado safety tips

More NOAA tips

The Tornado Project Online!


Prepare for Hurricane Sandy NOW!

October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy remains on target to bring life-threatening storm surge flooding to the mid-Atlantic coast, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbor. Winds of near hurricane-force are also expected at landfall.

This superstorm that could menace some 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, with forecasters warning New York could be in particular peril.

“The time for preparing and talking is about over,” Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate warned as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems that could turn it into one of the most fearsome storms on record in the U.S. “People need to be acting now.”

Governors from North Carolina to Connecticut have declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for residents in Zone A areas in New York City and the NYC MTA will shut down all subway, bus, and commuter railroad service at 7 PM, Sunday, Oct 28th.

NOAA forecaster Jim Cisco, who coined the nickname Frankenstorm for Sandy, said last week: “We don’t have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting.” The so-called “Perfect Storm” of book and movie fame was similar to this one, but that storm (in 1991) never made a direct hit on the United States but still caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

As of Sunday 28-Oct mid-afternoon, the center of Sandy is located about 575 miles south of New York City moving toward the northeast. It should turn toward the north and then northwest tonight and early Monday, and will be near the coast Monday Night. Most officials feel it will make landfall somewhere in New Jersey, but since it’s such a massive storm it will impact multiple states as it moves inland.

And the storm will take its time leaving. The weather may not start clearing in the mid-Atlantic until the day after Halloween and Nov. 2 in the upper Northeast, Cisco said. “It’s almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event,” he said from a NOAA forecast center in College Park, Md. “It’s going to be a widespread, serious storm.”

It is likely to hit during a full moon, when tides are near their highest, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. And because many trees still have their leaves, they are more likely to topple in the event of wind and snow, meaning there could be widespread power outages lasting to Election Day.

Weather.com and the National Hurricane Center are forecasting:

Destructive Wind Potential – Winds will be strong over a very large area and capable of downing or damaging many trees and possibly blowing out windows in skyscrapers. Power outages are expected to be widespread and could last for days so be sure to charge cell phones and have any other supplies you may need. Wind damage will spread well inland, especially over higher terrain, due to the extremely large size of Sandy. In some areas, sustained winds of 30 to 50 mph could last for more than 24 hours. Gusts may top 75 mph.
Heavy Rain Potential – Widespread heavy rainfall will likely lead to flooding problems in some areas. Rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches are expected to be widespread in parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic with locally 10 inches or more possible.

Coastal Flooding – There remains uncertainty with where exactly the worst coastal flooding is expected. In general, the most significant coastal flooding will occur to the north of where the center eventually moves inland. This most likely will extend from New Jersey to the New York City area and southern New England.

According to NHC’s update 3p 28-Oct: A significant storm surge is expected to occur in the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England. If the peak surge occurs at the time if high tide, the depths above ground level could reach 6 to 11 feet at Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay, and 4 to 8 feet from Ocean City, Md., to the Connecticut/Rhode Island state line, and 3 to 5 feet from there to the south shore of Cape Cod.

Heavy Snow – Yes, this setup will even wrap in just enough cold air on its western edge to produce wet snow, possibly heavy, in some parts of the central Appalachians (mountains of West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania). Total accumulations of a foot or more will be possible. The combination of snow and strong winds will damage trees and cause power outages.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting snow accumulations of 2 to 3 feet in the mountains of West Virgina, with locally higher amounts, tonight through Tuesday night. The southwestern Virginia mountains are forecast to see 12 to 18 inches of snow.

Some things to do to prepare for Hurricane Sandy…

  • Have a plan, map out several evacuation routes, and make disaster supplies kits for your home and vehicles. (And make kits for your office too.) And get some Weather radios with battery backup and tone-alert feature.
  • Make arrangements for pets since shelters may not allow them. If you have horses or livestock, make a plan for an alternate site in case they must be evacuated.
  • Be prepared to have enough supplies on hand for a week or 2 since these storms may knock out power in many states. Hopefully you have propane, sterno, a sun oven or other alternative ways to cook.
  • Videotape or take pictures of home and personal belongings and store chips/cards/drives with important papers in a secure, safe place offsite.
  • If you have time, strengthen weak spots on home — Roof: Install truss bracing or gable end bracing; anchors, clips and straps, etc. Windows & Doors: Get storm shutters or keep plywood on hand; install reinforced bolt kits or doors, etc. Garage doors: Some retrofit kits install horizontal bracing onto each panel.
  • Secure / anchor mobile homes with tie-down systems.
  • Secure or tie down loose items like patio furniture, barbeque grills, water heaters, garbage cans, bookcases and shelving, etc. Loose items can become like missiles during high winds or tornadoes.
  • Keep materials on hand like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, plastic garbage bags, lumber, shovels, work boots and gloves. Visit your local emergency management agency website to learn how to construct proper protective measures around your home (esp if using sandbags in case of flooding).
  • Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves — ask local utilities for instructions.
  • Listen to local authorities for warnings, evacuation tips and instructions.

Download our free 57-pg mini ebook with tips about Emergency Plan Checklists, assembling kits for your home, office or vehicle, and dealing with Floods, Hazardous materials, Hurricanes, etc … and find more free topics from our IT’S A DISASTER! book here and please share the data with others.

Additional Resources:

Resources for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy

National Hurricane Center

Ready.gov

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety Hurricane pg

FEMA’s mobi page or free app

American Red Cross free apps


Information and tips about NOAA Weather Radios

August 28, 2012

NOAA Weather RadioA critical tool every family and business should have in the home, kits and office are battery (or hand crank) radios so you can receive news and updates during an emergency. But another tool to consider is a weather radio.

NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts National Weather Service (NWS) warnings, watches, forecasts, and other non-weather related hazard information 24 hours a day.

During an emergency, NWS sends a special tone that activates weather radios in the listening area. Weather radios equipped with a special alarm tone feature can sound an alert and give you immediate information about a life-threatening situation.

NOAA Weather RadioNOAA Weather Radios are found in most electronics stores and departments and cost about $25 – $100. Some features to consider are alarm tone, battery backup, and “Specific Area Message Encoding” (SAME) programming.

NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) broadcasts warnings and post-event information for all types of hazards – weather (blizzards, thunderstorms, etc.), natural (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes), technological (chemical or oil spills, nuclear power plant emergencies, etc.), and national emergencies.

NOAA collaborates with other Federal agencies and the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) to issue non-weather related emergency messages including the issuance of “AmberAlerts”.

Options for those with Special Needs

NOAA Weather Radio offers nonverbal information imbedded in its broadcasts to provide timely, critical warnings of life threatening events to the hearing impaired. Some receivers are equipped with special output connectors that activate alerting devices such as vibrators, bed shakers, pillow vibrators, strobe lights and other alerting systems. Visit www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/info/shhh.html for more information.

Programming Your NOAA Weather Radio

If you purchase a Weather Radio receiver with “Specific Area Message Encoding”, you should program it with coding for your area. By doing so, you can limit the alerts which will trigger your weather radio to only those affecting your warning area.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions to program your receiver using the six-digit SAME code(s) for the warning areas of interest to you.

For more about NOAA Weather Radios visit www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/


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