Pawnee Police Department

SUBJECT: Emergency Management Bulletin Recommendations for Lightning Safety 

· Each year there are 25,300,000 lightning strikes in the United States.
· Between 1959 and 1994 there have been 331 Oklahomans killed by lightning.
· The air around a lightning strike is heated to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.


Lightning is an electrical discharge that results from the buildup of positive and negative charges within a thunderstorm. When the buildup becomes strong enough, lightning appears as a “bolt”. This flash of light usually occurs within the clouds or between the clouds and ground. The rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning causes thunder.

Lightning is a major threat during a thunderstorm. In the United States, between 75 and 100 Americans are hit and killed each year by lightning. Between 400 and 500 injuries from lightning occur each year requiring medical attention. It is a myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. In fact, lightning will strike several times in the same place in the course of one discharge.

Lightning is the most consistent and significant weather hazard. While the probability of being struck by lightning is extremely low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area and the proper safety precautions are not followed. 

The following steps are recommended by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL):
1) Monitor the weather. If you obtain a flash to bang count of 30 seconds, you should leave the outside area and seek safe shelter. Your work outside may have to be interrupted.
2) The existence of blue sky and the absence of rain are not protection from lightning. Lightning can, and does, strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain shaft. It does not have to be raining for lightning to strike.
3) If no safe structure is around, go to a vehicle. If no vehicle is available, assume a crouched position on the ground with only the balls of the feet touching the ground. Wrap your arms around your knees and lower your head. Minimize contact with the ground because lightning current often enters a victim through the ground rather than by a direct overhead strike. Minimize your body’s surface area, and minimize contact with the ground! Do not lie flat! If you are unable to reach safe shelter, stay away from the tallest trees or objects (such as light poles or flag poles), metal objects (such as fences or bleachers), individual trees, standing pools of water, and open fields. Avoid being the highest object in a field. Do not take shelter under a single tree.
4) A person who feels his hair stand on end, or skin tingle, should immediately crouch, as described in item 3.
5) Avoid using the telephone, except in emergency situations. People have been struck by lightning while using a land-line telephone. A cellular phone or a portable remote is a safe alternative to land-line phones, if the person and the antenna are located within a safe structure or location, and if all other precautions are followed.
6) To resume work, wait 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning or sound of thunder before returning to the activity.
7) People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge. Therefore, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is safe for the responder. If possible, an injured person should be moved to a safer location before starting CPR. Lightning strike victims who show signs of cardiac or respiratory arrest need emergency help quickly. Prompt, aggressive CPR has been highly effective for the survival of victims of lightning strikes. 

At any given moment, nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are in progress over the surface of the earth.

On average, the United States gets 100,000 thunderstorms each year. Approximately 1,000 tornadoes develop from these storms.

Approximately 10,000 forest fires are started each year by lightning. 

Approximately $100 million in annual losses result from forest and building fires caused by lightning.

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