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When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors

April 7, 2011
Did you know that if you can hear thunder you are within striking distance of the lightning?
Experts from the National Weather Bureau describe the "Flash to Bang" method as a way to estimate lightning from your location. If you see lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance the lightning is away from you. For example, when you see lightning and begin counting the seconds; one thousand one, one thousand two….. and you get to one thousand ten before you hear the thunder, then the estimated distance of the lightning is 2 miles away from you (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles).

Studies have shown most people struck by lightning are struck not at the height of a thunderstorm, but before and after the storm has peaked. This is because lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining and many people are unaware of how far lightning can strike from its parent thunderstorm. Therefore, if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately. The Palatine Fire Department and the National Weather Bureau ask you to remember ...When thunder roars, go indoors and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. DO NOT wait for the rain to start before seeking shelter, and do not leave a shelter just because the rain has ended. By applying some common sense, you will increase your safety and the safety of those that are with you. Lightning is truly an underrated weather hazard.

The Palatine Fire Department advises that during a lightning storm do not use hard wired phones, computers connected to phone lines, electrical appliances, or touch the household plumbing. All these are grounded to the homes electrical circuitry and can become over energized by a lightning strike. The increased voltage from the lightning can create a shock hazard. Also, should you suspect that lightning has hit your home resist the temptation to go outside immediately to check, while the storm is still in the area, as there is a good chance that more lightning will strike. If you can access your attic from within the house without coming into contact with any plumbing or electric, open the access door and where possible poke your head up to see if there is any visible smoke, or odor of smoke. Do not enter the attic space to investigate if you are not sure; instead dial 9-1-1 to report a possible lightning strike. Lightning can be as hot as 54,000 degrees, which is five times the surface temperature of the sun. Although there may be no exterior signs of a fire, there is a chance that the lightning has sparked a fire within the dry attic space. These fires can go undetected for some time, and by the time you do see smoke there is a good chance the fire may have involved a significant portion of the attic.    

Lightning is one of the most unpredictable characteristics of a thunderstorm. Because of this, no one can guarantee absolute protection from lightning. However, knowing and following proven lightning safety guidelines can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death. While no place is 100% safe from lightning, some places are much safer than others.
Where to Go
The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and private residences.
If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity more efficiently than a human body. If no buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus makes a decent alternative.
Where NOT to Go
Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings which are NOT SAFE (even if they are "grounded") have exposed openings. These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.
Convertible vehicles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is "up". Other vehicles which are NOT SAFE during lightning storms are those which have open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction equipment.
What To Do
Once inside a sturdy building, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures. As an added safety measure, stay in an interior room.
If you are inside a vehicle, roll the windows up, and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. radios, CB's, ignition, etc.).
What NOT to Do
Lightning can travel great distances through power lines, especially in rural areas. Do not use electrical appliances, ESPECIALLY corded telephones unless it is an emergency (cordless and cell phones are safe to use).
Computers are also dangerous as they usually are connected to both phone and electrical cords. Do not take a shower or bath or use a hot tub.


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