June hit with more lightning fatalities than usual - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

June hit with more lightning fatalities than usual

The Month Ends With Lightning Safety Awareness Week

By Ki Mae Heussner 

NATIONAL (ABCNEWS.com) - The summer months are always the most dangerous for lightning strikes, but this June is shaping up to be unusually fatal, experts say.

"Last year was an exceptionally good year for not having fatalities. This year is starting out as an exceptionally bad year, compared to the past five years," said John Jensenius, the lightning expert for the National Weather Service. "It's been every day or almost every other day in June."

So far this month, he said, there have been 11 U.S. deaths. By comparison, there were eight fatalities in total last June and four through the 18th day of that month. In 2007, there were 12 deaths in the entire month of June and three by the 18th. The 30-year-average for June is 13 deaths, he said.

Lightning strikes more than 400 people each year in the United States,and about 60 of those lead to death, according to the National Weather Service. Most lightning strikes and fatalities occur during July.

June Ends With Lighting Safety Awareness Week

Usually, he said, fatalities from lightning strikes increase toward the end of the June, as the school year ends and people spend more time outside.

"It's a combination of outdoor activities and lightning that results in people getting killed," he said. "Part of the increase can be attributed to bad luck, part of it to people taking too long to go indoors when storms approach."

The most recent fatality took place in Columbia, Mo., Wednesday.

According to the Boone County Fire Protection District, Georgette Tillett, 23, was walking across an open field after a fishing trip with two friends when she was struck by lightning. By the time firefighters arrived, she was unconscious and not breathing. An hour later, she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration kicked off its annual Lightning Safety Awareness week Sunday, it urged people to exercise caution during the summer.

The organization's key advice is to go into a fully enclosed building or hardtop vehicle at the first clap of thunder and remain indoors for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

'When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors'

In a number of cases, Jensenius of the National Weather Service said, people would have been saved if they had just moved indoors five to 10 minutes earlier.

Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, a lightning injury expert, said her advice is simple.

"When thunder roars, go indoors," she said, quoting the National Weather Service's motto. "No place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area."

Lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles from a thunderstorm, she said. So check the weather reports and make alternate, indoor plans if you know that a storm is on the way.

But while experts say your chances of being struck by lightning dramatically decrease once you're inside a building with both plumbing and wiring, they warn that hazards still exist around the house.

Once you're indoors, experts caution against contact with electrical equipment and plumbing. Here's a list of specific threats to avoid:

Household Hazards

Doorbells 

In your rush to escape the storm, stay away from wired appliances such as doorbells, on or near the outside of the building. Lightning can travel through the electrical wiring and shock you. Don't believe it? Last summer, a man in Ohio was struck by lightning through his doorbell while leaning against the front door. He survived the strike but suffered burns on his hands and feet.

Doorknobs 

If you want to watch the storm rage outside from the safety of your living room, go right ahead. But keep your distance from windows and doors, particularly those made of metal. Jensenius said there have been several cases of people who have been shocked while holding on to doorknobs or leaning against metallic window and door frames.

Corded Telephones 

They may not seem as popular as cell phones or their cordless cousins, but corded phones still exist. And they are the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries, according to the National Weather Service. Lightning has traveled through telephone wires to severely injure or kill people.

Wired Video Game Handsets 

Injuries caused by wired video game handsets are on the rise, lightning experts say. People understand that wired equipment, such as computers and DVD players, should be unplugged and avoided. But that awareness has not yet extended to wired video game systems.

The Sink 

Martin Uman, a University of Florida professor and lightning expert, told ABCNews.com that he can recount several cases of people who have been killed while washing their hands at the sink.

"Lightning strikes pieces of pipe in the backyard that go to the sink. If there's a complete metal connection between the piping and the sink, there's a direct strike," he said. This threat is not as great in buildings with PVC piping instead of metal piping.

The Shower 

The shower is also one of the last places you should be during a storm. If lightning strikes the building, it could travel through the plumbing and deliver a charge.

Electric Personal Appliances 

If you need to primp, wait for the storm to pass. Hair dryers, electric shavers and electric toothbrushes are all off-limits during a storm, experts say.

Washer/Dryer

Doing the laundry is another bad idea, as it involves proximity to both plumbing and electric wires. The dryer is a triple threat, Jensenius says, because lightning could enter the building through the dryer's outside vent.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

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