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On average, lightning kills 60 to 80 Americans each year making it the second most dangerous severe weather event while flooding is number one. And 80% of all lightning deaths are male. However, only ten percent of persons struck by lightning die, with cardiac arrest essentially being the only immediate cause, other than from a secondary cause such as a fall or collision with a rock after being struck first. The surprising low percentage of deaths is explainable by the extremely short time lightning is in contact with a human body - milliseconds. Of the hundred others who are struck by lightning annually and survive, many incur debilitating lifelong injuries, especially to their neurological functions.
Based on reported data, the odds that people living in America will be struck by lightning are about one in 700,000. Including the additional estimated deaths and injuries that go unreported puts the odds at 1 in 240,000. The odds that you will be struck in your lifetime are one in 3,000, while your chance of being affected by someone who has been struck is 1 in 300. Those that live where there are numerous thunderstorms and who spend a lot of time outdoors are at much higher risk. From 1990 through 2003, the most lightning deaths each year occurred in Florida - twice as many as in any other state - followed by Texas, Colorado, Ohio and North Carolina.
When lightning will strike is completely unpredictable. It can unleash a bolt ten miles ahead of a storm. Because people typically do not take precautions before a storm or in the period shortly after it leaves, these times are the most dangerous. Lightning can strike even when the skies are blue. Because every bolt originates in a storm cloud, one can exit from a concealed cloud (e.g., a cloud behind a mountain ridge) and literally streak sideways to hit something miles away. There is no safe interval between one bolt and the next; the second may follow almost immediately. The distance between one lightning strike and the next in a sequence of strikes can be six to eight miles. When you can hear thunder, even distant thunder, the next lightning bolt could still strike you.
Excerpts taken from "Thunderstorms - Why You Shouldn't Get Caught In One," Explore!, Volume 15, Number 3, 2006.
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a thunderstorm hazard.
Remember the following thunderstorm safety guidelines for lightning as noted in the book "Shattered Air" by Bob Madgic.
And always make sure you have a wilderness survival kit with you, even on just an afternoon hike.
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