Whitesburg KY

Rain may be 10 miles from lightning strike

Summertime in eastern Kentucky – hot, hazy, and lazy. There are trips to the lakes, Buckhorn, Cave Run, Cumberland, Paintsville, or any of the hundreds of smaller lakes scattered through the mountains. Nearly every afternoon through the summer season, the weather forecast will mention a chance of showers and thunderstorms. It is mentioned so often that you don’t even pay attention and your planned outdoor activities go on without hesitation.

Did you know it does not have to be raining for you to be vulnerable to lightning? In fact, the rain may be as far as 10 miles from your location.

How can this be? The structure of the cumulonimbus cloud that produces thunderstorms is often described as looking like an anvil. A towering column of condensed water vapor boils upwards into the atmosphere until the upward energy cannot push it higher. At that point, the top of the cloud begins to spread out and flatten, which gives the cloud its distinctive anvil appearance. Lightning can discharge from any point within the cloud, including the anvil shield itself. Skies may still be blue where you are, with the core of the thunderstorm where the heavy rain is occurring as much as 10 miles from where the lightning actually strikes.

The general rule to live by while outdoors is if you are able to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. It only takes one strike to change your life forever. The actual statistics are sobering. On average each year, nearly 100 people die from lightning, and better than 1,000 are injured each year.

Cloud-to-ground lightning can kill or injure people by direct or indirect means. The lightning current can branch off to a person from a tree, fence, pole, or other tall object. In addition, flashes may conduct their current through the ground to a person after the flash strikes a nearby tree, antenna, or other tall object. The current also may travel through power or telephone lines, or plumbing pipes to a person who is in contact with an electric appliance, telephone, or plumbing fixture.

Similarly, objects can be directly struck and this impact may result in an explosion, burn, or total destruction. Or, the damage may be indirect when the current passes through or near it. Sometimes, current may enter a building and transfer through wires or plumbing and damage everything in its path. In urban areas, it may strike a pole or tree and the current then travels to several nearby houses and other structures and enters them through wiring or plumbing.

The injury for lightning victims is often permanent brain, nerve, or other physical damage from burns. Very few people struck by lightning are lucky enough to have no lasting effects.

A sharp “weather-eye” is needed in the summertime when the afternoon thunderstorms begin to develop. NOAA Weather Radio is also a valuable source of information to know which areas are the most likely to have thunderstorms affect your outdoor plans. Many brands of the weather radios have portable models, designed specifically to accompany you on your recreational trips. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Jackson will keep you updated on the location and movement of thunderstorms with short-term forecasts so you can better plan your activities.

This summer, don’t become a statistic. Pay attention to the sky through the day, stay informed with NOAA Weather Radio, and seek shelter when thunder rumbles.

Lightning Safety Awareness Week June is 24-30. For more information on thunderstorms and lightning dangers, visit http:/ /www.noaa.gov/lightning.html.

Remembeer, when thunder roars go indoors!

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