Fox News Weather Center

Lightning Death Dangers Mount During Summer

Lightning has claimed four lives so far this year across the United States. People who do not take the proper precautions could suffer the same fate or injury as thunderstorm activity increases through the summer months.

It is no coincidence that the average number of lightning deaths across the U.S. peaks at the same time of thunderstorm activity and when people are spending more time outdoors.

The plethora of summer thunderstorms is the result of the influx of warm and moist air that is usually not present in the cooler months. Frontal boundaries, mountains, tropical systems and daytime heating give rise to the thunderstorms.

The atmosphere is always trying to find a balance and thunderstorms are nature's air conditioners on a hot and humid summer day.

For the start of June 2014, thunderstorms will remain concentrated across the Deep South, Plains and northern Rockies with isolated afternoon thunderstorms dotting the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

Lightning causes an average of 400 injuries each year, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

As recently as this past Thursday, reports received by the NWS stated that five people (comprised of three in Wyoming and two in Florida) sustained injuries due to lightning in a single day.

The 30-year average for lightning-related deaths in the U.S. is 51 with 37 of those deaths occurring during the months from June to August. To put that into perspective, the 30-year average for tornado and hurricane deaths stands at 75 and 47, respectively.

The four lightning-related deaths so far in 2014 occurred in May with the most recent being the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, according to data complied by the NWS.

Thomas Wartell, 44, was struck and killed by lightning while he was riding his motorcycle through Cimarron, New Mexico, on May 22.

On May 14, 40-year-old Agustin Navarrete-Guerrero died from a lightning strike when he was closing car windows at a construction site in Seminole, Florida.

All those killed by lightning this year have been males, which, as Staff Writer Michael Kuhne reports, is statistically the gender lightning strikes the most.

"Among the most common activities in which lightning resulted in death, fishing ranked the highest," stated Kuhne.

That is exactly what 71-year-old Larry Webb was doing when he was struck and killed on May 14, 2014.

According to Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network, cloud-to-ground lightning flashes averaged nearly 23 million a year across the 48 contiguous U.S. states from 1997 to 2012.

Lightning flashes per square miles was highest in Florida, while Washington State ranked last.

Lightning deaths are most common during summer afternoons and evenings, states the NWS. That coincides with when the majority of thunderstorms rumble this time of year.

The current of a lightning bolt averages 10,000 to 200,000 amps, meaning that the average lightning flash would light a 100-watt light bulb for three months.

This intense charge of electricity is why lightning poses an extreme danger to people and animals. Structural fires can also start from a lightning strike.

Do not undermine the power of a thunderstorm if a warning is not issued. The criteria for a severe thunderstorm involves damaging winds and hail, not lightning.

If you are caught outdoors during a thunderstorm and there is no other way to seek shelter, make yourself the smallest target possible. Crouch down with your knees together and your weight on the balls of your feet. Put your head down and cover your ears. Do not lie flat. The goal is to minimize your height and your body's contact with the ground.

Never seek shelter underneath a tree. The lightning charge can strike the tree, then cause fatalities up to 100 feet away. Avoid lakes, streams and swimming pools since water conducts electricity.

When you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

A thunderstorm may not be directly overhead, but you could still get hit by lightning. A bolt of lightning can strike people and buildings 10 miles away from where it is raining. In extremely rare cases, lightning has been detected almost 50 miles from the parent thunderstorm.

A sturdy and enclosed building or a vehicle is the safest place to be during a thunderstorm. However, Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger dispels the myth that the rubber tires of a vehicle is what keeps people safe during a thunderstorm.

Water, windows, plumbing and electrical appliances should be avoided. Roughly 4 to 5 percent of people that have been struck by lightning were talking on a corded telephone.