MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. – As summer storms continue to pop up throughout the region, experts said Monday that lightning safety is an important subject to keep in mind.
Most fatal lightning strikes take place during the summer, according to National Weather Service data. While only 4 recorded lighting fatalities have happened so far in 2019, it kills an average of 47 people in the United States annually. Hundreds more are injured.
Lightning could be more dangerous than you give it credit for, said WHNT News 19 meteorologist Gabrielle Deabler.
“I think it is sometimes underestimated as a risk because every thunderstorm has lightning,” she said. “But 2/3 of lightning fatalities occur during the summer because so many people want to be outside. It’s not something to be underestimated. it is a serious threat. Especially this time of year.”
Denny Holland, a Muscle Shoals resident, can speak to that.
He recalls the moment he and some coworkers went outside in a rainstorm and he had a close call.
“It was raining pretty bad but we went outside with umbrellas,” he said. “You never know when something like that can happen to you… It just came out of nowhere all of a sudden. Just popped down on top of a dumpster.”
He said the lightning hit several feet away from him, but he believes the current went through the metal handle of his umbrella and into his body.
“Bright, white flashing light all around. I couldn’t see for a second,” he recalled. “It was really loud, the pop. I just felt a jolt hit me on the side of the head. I kind of got really dizzy.”
He said he started feeling bad enough to take himself to the ER. But thankfully, he had no lasting injuries.
“My great-uncle was hit by lightning, and his life was never the same. I consider myself very fortunate,” he said. “I am just thankful the Lord was looking after me.”
HEMSI official, Don Webster, said often lightning strike victims have serious injuries including cardiac arrest, burns, and tingling.
But there isn’t always rain involved in lightning strikes.
In the state’s most recent lightning accident reported in Mobile, the victim’s family said it wasn’t even raining. Deabler says you don’t have to be in a thunderstorm to be hit by lightning like that.
“Lightning can strike up to 10 to 15 miles away from the parent storm that’s producing it. We call those bolts from the blue. And they can strike under sunny skies,” she said. “Lightning can stretch for miles away from a thunderstorm. And because summertime thunderstorms are so isolated, that’s not that uncommon.”
Deabler also debunks an often-repeated phrase: “lightning never strikes the same place twice.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” she said. “Lightning actually hits the same object twice very frequently. Lightning just wants to get to the ground, so it’s going to hit the thing closest to the ground that it can reach.”
Another misconception: that trees are suitable shelter.
“There is nowhere outdoors that is safe from lightning,” she said. “Not a tree, not crouching down, not laying down flat on the ground. All of those are misconceptions. There is no safe place outside. You need to get indoors or find some kind of shelter. Even just going to your car is going to be safer than staying outside.”
Holland said he completely gets it. And that’s what he practices at home now, too.
“I just try not to be too active outside, if it’s raining or lightning,” he explained. “I used to go outside and watch a storm. I’ve always enjoyed watching a storm. But since that happened I don’t do that. I just watch from the safety of inside.”
For more lightning facts vs. myths, click here.