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Our View: Beware of lightning

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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Since 1981, the National Weather Service says an average of 53 people per year die as a result of lightning strikes.

Since 2003, seven people in Illinois have died as a result of lightning strikes, including two this year. In May, a 17-year-old was struck by lightning and killed at a Downers Grove Park. Four days earlier, a man was killed in Shelbyville while fishing on the Kaskaskia River.

Yes, the odds are long that you’ll be struck by lightning in your lifetime. The National Weather Service estimates the odds are 1-in-10,000. However, the odds are 1-in-1,000 that you will be affected by someone being struck by lightning.

There are five ways to be struck by lightning: a direct strike (self-explanatory), a side flash (lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and a portion of the current jumps from taller object to the victim), ground current (lightning strikes a tree or other object, and much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface), conduction (lightning travels long distances in wires or other metal surfaces that a victim is in contact with), and streamers (when the main channel discharges, so do all the other streamers in the area).

No place outside is safe when lightning is in the area, and there are even risks involved indoors. The National Weather Service offers these safety tips:

• When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter – a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up. Stay in the safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

• If you are indoors, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity; avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets; stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches; and do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

• If you are caught outside, immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks; never lie flat on the ground; never shelter under an isolated tree; never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter; immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water; and stay away from objects that conduct electricity.

Lightning is a serious danger during storm season. Take the proper precautions to avoid becoming the next statistic.

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