That rumble of thunder in the distance could be the only warning you get that it’s time to take cover from the potential killer of lightning. Jeff Johnson, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Des Moines, says many Iowans don’t give lightning the respect it’s due.
Johnson says lightning is the nation’s number-two weather killer, behind flash flooding. Tornadoes place third deadliest. Johnson says lightning is under-rated, as people think tornadoes and flooding cause a lot of the destruction, which they do, "but lightning gets people one at a time." Plus, he says virtually everyone will encounter a lightning threat during the year. He says if you’re out on a golf course, a soccer field, or just pulling weeds in your backyard garden, you need to be aware of thunder.
Johnson says lightning can strike well outside a thunderstorm, ten to 15 miles out, so if you hear thunder, you’re at risk from lightning. He says if you hear thunder or see lightning, you need to get off the ball field and take shelter in a building with a roof, floor and four walls. Another refuge is a hard-top car, not a convertible. He says it’s not crying wolf to run for cover during a thunderstorm and people shouldn’t feel silly doing so.
Johnson says, "Since 1994, almost ten people have been killed in Iowa from lightning strikes. About one to two a year get killed, on average. It might look dorky, but the smart thing to do is to not take chances, particularly around metal bleachers or if you’re out playing golf, anywhere like that, you’re just putting yourself at risk."
This is National Lightning Awareness Week. For more information about lightning safety and other weather-related issues, surf to: " www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/week.htm ".