By Jim Pollard, Public Affairs Manager, American Medical Response Central Mississippi
Lightning is one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena – and one of its deadliest, particularly in the Deep South. According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes about 300 people in the U.S. each year, killing about 30. For every death, many more are injured and some are left with lifelong disabilities such as intense pain, nerve damage and depression.
Beware! All five of the states with the most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are in the Southeast. Only two states have more cloud-to-ground lightning than Mississippi (Florida and Louisiana).
Lightning is unpredictable, so, heed these survival tips:
• Check weather forecasts frequently and watch for storm clouds. Also, be aware that lightning can strike outside areas where it’s raining, even when skies are blue. Set your cell phone to receive weather alerts.
• If you hear thunder, you’re in danger. Postpone outdoor activities. Immediately move inside a fully enclosed building with plumbing or electricity. (A shed, picnic shelter, pavilion, tent or covered porch does NOT protect you from lightning.) If you’re boating or swimming, head to land immediately and go indoors. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity.
• Once you’re indoors, stay away from windows and don’t use a corded phone. Cell phones and cordless phones are safe to use. Don’t touch metal window frames or doors. Don’t lean on concrete walls, which may have metal in them. V Avoid baths and showers because water pipes can conduct electricity.
• If you’re caught outside and there is no available building to provide shelter, you can retreat to a hard-topped metal vehicle. V Stay in the building or vehicle for 30 minutes after the last thunder.
• If you’re outdoors but no building or vehicle is nearby, do NOT take shelter under tall objects such as trees, utility poles and towers. Instead, move into an open area and try not to be the tallest object. Squat on the balls of your feet.
• Golfers, gardeners and others holding metal objects should put them down. Stay away from electrical conductors such as metal fences and wires.
• When there are others with you, spread out several yards apart. Yes, statistically, that increases the odds someone will be struck, but it also improves the chances someone will be able to help anyone who is struck.
• The most common injury from lightning strike is interruption of the heartbeat. Other injuries can include burns, broken bones and damage to the nervous system.
• After someone has suffered a lightning strike, it is safe to touch the victim. Approach him or her and start first aid. If the victim’s clothing is burning, put the fire out. Call 911 immediately.
• Because lightning CAN strike the same place twice, move the victim indoors if possible.
• Parents, coaches and others in charge of outdoor gatherings should have a lightning safety plan – and stick to it. Learn about commercial and personal lightning detectors (including their limitations) and consider buying one.
While lightening can pose a serious threat any time of year, during the summer when people spend more time outdoors and pop up thunderstorms are common, it is especially important to be aware, informed and take the proper precautions to keep safe from this potential danger that can literally come out of nowhere.
Learn more about lightning safety at www.weather.gov/lightning.
American Medical Response is America’s leading provider of medical transportation with sites in 36 states. Operating in 17 Mississippi counties, AMR companies are the state’s busiest ambulance services. For more information about AMR, visit www.amr.com.