Most people think the odds of being struck by lightning are slim. However, lightning is actually the number two weather killer in the U.S., more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In fact, anyone who lives to the age of 80 has a 1 in 3,000 chance of being hit at least once. According to NOAA there were 47 documented deaths from lightening strikes in 2006, and an additional 246 injuries. NOAA estimates the number of injuries is actually much higher, probably closer to 1,000, since many incidences are not reported.
Here is what you can do to stay safe in a thunderstorm:
• Be aware of the signs of an oncoming thunder and lightning storm. Tall clouds with a cauliflower shape, dark skies and distant rumbles are all signs of an impending storm.
• If you see lightning, start counting until you hear a rumble of thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is close enough to be dangerous. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining during a storm.
• Nowhere outside is completely safe. Seek a large, enclosed building whenever possible.
• The next best option is a car with a hard top. Stay inside and keep the windows up. It is the metal shell of the car that protects you, not the rubber tires.
• If you are inside, stay at least a few feet away from open windows, electrical items and outlets, and plumbing such as sinks and showers. Lightning can flow through these items and "jump" to a person. Never shower or bathe during a thunder storm.
• Use a cell or cordless phone instead of a land line. If lightning hits telephone lines, it can flow through the line to the telephone.
• If you are outside and cannot get inside, do not stand under a tree! Try to find a low spot away from any metal fences, pipes, trees, or tall objects.
• If you are swimming or boating and you hear distant rumbles, or see flashes of lightning, get to land as soon as possible.
• If you are in a boat and cannot get to shore, stay in the middle of the boat, or below, if possible.
• If your skin begins to tingle or your hair stands up, a lightning strike may be imminent. Crouch down on the balls of your feet with your feet close together. Do not put your hands on the ground. Do not lie down! You want to keep points of contact between yourself and the ground to a minimum.
When someone is struck by lightning, he or she should get medical attention as soon as possible. Even if a person who was struck appears dead, he or she can often be revived with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Once the electric charge has gone through one person, there is no residual effect that can be passed along to another person. Immediate injuries can include burns, wounds, nerve damage and fractures.
According to NOAA, long-term symptoms are primarily neurological and can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include memory deficit, sleep disturbance, chronic pain and dizziness. Some lightning survivors have trouble processing information, are easily distracted and may even have personality changes. These symptoms do not always manifest immediately, some may not appear until months after the lightning strike.
SOURCE: New York State Department of Health, Emergency Prepardness and Response.