Lightning Safety Awareness
(Adopted by AMS Council on 29 April 2002)
Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 83
The American Meteorological Society wishes to call the attention of the American public to the serious hazard posed by lightning. All of us, and especially those responsible for the safety of others, need to become better informed about lightning safety rules and act accordingly when threatening conditions develop.
Lightning is the second greatest cause of storm-related deaths in the U.S. (after floods). Lightning kills more people per year on average than hurricanes and tornadoes combined, when corrected for underreporting. There are about 100 lightning fatalities annually in the U.S. Beyond the tragic loss of life, however, are the many injuries. Only about 10% of lightning strike victims are killed; 90% survive. But many of the estimated 1000 survivors suffer severe, life-long injury and disability. Being struck by lightning is often used as a metaphor for an improbable threat. However, it is not a low probability event. The National Weather Service estimates one person in 300 will either be struck by lightning or be affected by a close associate being a lightning victim during their lifetime.
Fortunately, the vast majority of lightning casualties (deaths and injuries) can be easily avoided. Although complete safety from lightning can not reasonably be achieved, following a set of simple guidelines can substantially reduce lightning casualties. Adhering to the "30-30 Rule" is the first step. If the time between seeing a lightning strike and hearing thunder is less than 30 seconds, the storm already poses a hazard. A return to normal activities should wait for 30 minutes after the last apparent lightning flash or thunder. Seek shelter inside a well-constructed building (but avoid plumbing and electrical equipment) whenever lightning becomes a threat. It must always be remembered that no place outside is safe near a thunderstorm. The public can find detailed information on lightning safety from many sources, including a compilation provided by the National Weather Service available online (http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov).
If a lightning tragedy does occur, medical authorities point out that virtually all fatalities result from cardiac and/or respiratory arrest at the time of the injury. Calling for "9-1-1" assistance as soon as possible is paramount. Many victims can be revived if they receive immediate medical assistance (CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). Medical authorities recommend that if numerous persons are involved in a lightning incident, treat the apparently dead first, since many can be revived. Strike victims do not carry an electrical charge and may be safely touched.
The annual toll of lightning casualties can be reduced through improved public education. The meteorological community needs to intensify its efforts to raise public consciousness about the magnitude of the lightning hazard and motivate the practice of lightning safety. Until recently, relatively little attention has been paid to lightning safety, as compared to tornado, hurricane, and flood safety. This is one area of weather safety where major improvements can be achieved very cost-effectively. The Society specifically applauds the efforts of the National Weather Service and its partnering organizations in conducting an annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week. Given the relative ease, low cost and high effectiveness of following lightning safety guidelines, we call on meteorologists, especially within the broadcast, public education, and emergency preparedness communities, to promote lightning safety education.
The community of lightning safety experts has prepared guidelines and resources to aid in this activity. In addition to the National Weather Service website, further background materials, including information on lightning detection equipment and systems, may be found in the supporting document, "Updated Recommendations for Lightning Safety - 2002" available online from the American Meteorological Society. This paper will also be available in an upcoming issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
[This statement is considered in force until September 2013 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]
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