While Iowans have had their share of severe weather events lately, from tornadoes and thunderstorms to flooding, forecasters are issuing a warning about another deadly phenomenon. This is Lightning Safety Awareness Week.
Frank Boksa, a National Weather Service meteorologist, says one bolt of lightning can extend five miles, reach 50,000 degrees and contain 100-million volts of electricity. He says at least eight people have died this year nationwide because they’ve been struck by lightning, with around 45 people being struck and killed in 2007.
Boksa says at any given moment, there are 1,800 thunderstorms in progress someplace on Earth, meaning that there’s always a risk of lightning striking someone. He says if a person suffers a direct hit, a person will usually suffer a heart attack due to the strong electrical charge.
The heat of the lightning is so intense that any rain or sweat on a person is immediately turned into steam, causing the person’s clothing or shoes to blow off. Boksa says the best thing to do when there’s a thunderstorm is to stay inside, while one of the worst things you can do is stand under a tree.
He says lightning will hit the highest point first and it’s possible for lightning to bounce from a tree to a person standing underneath it. Lightning detection systems in the United States annually monitor an average of 25-million flashes of cloud-to-ground lightning.