Treat lightning with the respect it deserves. Lightning ranks as one of the most serious weather hazards, right up there with floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes (see graph). Because it does its damage in ones and twos, it does not get the same attention as a hurricane or tornado. However, the results can be just as devastating.
Summer (June, July, and August) is the peak season for lightning hazards because it is both the peak for thunderstorms and outdoor activities. Because of the summer spike, the National Weather Service has declared June 23-29, 2013 as Lightning Safety Week.
A detailed review of recent lightning deaths in the US was done by John Jensenius (NWS). According to that report, there were 238 people killed between 2006 and 2012. It turns out that golfers (8 deaths in the 7-year study) are not the most likely victims of lightning. More dangerous activities include fishing (26 deaths), camping (15 deaths), boating (14 deaths). Even yard work is more dangerous (12 deaths). Another sobering statistic for us guys is that we account for 82 percent of all fatalities.
According to another recent study, we have had 102 reported lightning fatalities in Illinois from 1959-2012. And some researchers suggests that these numbers may be too low by 30 to 50 percent because not all lightning deaths are reported as such. Lightning has likely injured hundreds more in Illinois since 1959. The injuries can be severe, especially to the brain and nerves. This NOAA webpage outlines the medial aspects of lightning.
So treat lightning with the respect it deserves. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Seek shelter immediately. Do not wait. Buildings and vehicles are the best places to seek shelter. Here are more safety resources, including toolkits.
- Lightning Injury Research Program – Dr. Mary Cooper, U of I at Chicago
- Lightning in Illinois – Illinois state climatologist page