Summer Threat ‘Five Times Hotter Than the Sun’

By Virginia Breen

Jul 17, 2009 12:46pm

  (Associated Press) ABC News on Campus reporter Kristin Giannas blogs: July may be the time for lemonade, fireworks and fun in the sun, but weather watchers warn of a less positive distinction: “July typically is the month with the greatest number of lightning fatalities,” said John Jensenius, the lightning expert for the National Weather Service. “We tend to see the fatalities come in somewhat randomly.” So far this month, lightning has caused seven U.S. deaths, all of which occurred in the first eight days of July. The 30-year-average for July is 17 deaths, he said. This year, there have been 23 deaths nationally:  two in Texas and California, four in Florida, and the remainder occurring in 14 other states, with one in Puerto Rico. “At this point, Florida had more fatalities than anywhere else with four,” he said.  Areas around Colorado and New England also experience a lot of lightning during the summer months. The season continues through July and August, with fatalities increasing as people spend more time outside.  “It can strike during recreational activities like boating, sometimes jogging or baseball, or while performing day-to-day chores like cutting the lawn or taking out the trash,” he said. Lightning can even strike in seemingly clear skies. “It’s called a bolt from the blue,” says Dr. Corene Matyas, assistant professor of geography at the University of Florida.  “There are no clouds overhead. It may have never even rained where you are, but lightning can still strike.” Bolts of lightning can travel horizontally and strike 10 miles from a thunderstorm before making contact with the ground. “You don’t have to be directly underneath the cloud to get struck by lightning,” Matyas said. "A bolt of lightning is more than five times hotter than the sun," said Matyas, noting that the energy spreads as soon as it makes contact with the ground. "If it hits water, a very good conductor, it can travel quickly to a great distance." Jensenius offered the following safety tips: -Have a lightning safety plan. “The main thing for people to realize is if you hear thunder, lightning is in striking distance,” he said. “Plan ahead so you avoid thunderstorms.” -Postpone activities like boating to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation. -Monitor the weather. Darkening skies, flashes of lightning or increased wind are all signs of a developing thunderstorm. -Get to a safe place. Fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing provide the best protection. Picnic shelters do not protect you from lightning. If a sturdy building is not nearby, get into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the windows. Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder. -If you hear thunder, don’t use a corded phone except in an emergency. Cordless phones and cell phones are safe to use. -Keep away from electrical equipment and wiring. -Water pipes conduct electricity. Don’t take a bath or shower or use other plumbing during a storm. “The key is simply there’s no safe place outside during a thunderstorm,” he said. “Plan ahead so you avoid thunderstorms altogether.”

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