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Brady Smith , AICP
4000 Gateway Centre Blvd.
Pinellas Park, Florida 33782
Phone: (727)570-5151 ext. 42
4000 Gateway Centre Blvd. Suite 100
Phone: (727)570-5151 ext. 29
Thunderstorms affect relatively small areas when compared with hurricanes and winter storms. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are occurring at any moment around the world. That's 16 million a year! Despite their small size; all thunderstorms are dangerous. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, only 10 percent are classified as severe.
- Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people each year than tornadoes. Heavy rain can lead to flooding. Strong winds and tornadoes are also dangers associated with some thunderstorms. Along the Gulf Coast, most thunderstorms occur during the afternoon.
- Lightning causes an average of 93 deaths and 300 injuries annually and causes several hundred million dollars in damage. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning death and injuries.
- Flash Floods/Floods cause 140 fatalities each year. Most flash flood deaths occur when people become trapped in their automobiles.
- Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Winds can exceed 200 mph. Tornadoes result in an average of 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries each year.
- Straight Line Winds are responsible for most thunderstorm wind damage. A small area of rapidly descending air beneath a thunderstorm can cause damaging winds in excess of 100 mph. The strong winds usually approach from one direction and may be known as "straight line" winds. One type of straight line winds, the downburst (above) , can cause as much damage as a strong tornado.
The action of rising and descending air within a thunderstorm separates positive and negative charges. Water and ice particles also affect the distribution of electrical charge. Lightning results from the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas. The average flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months. Most lightning occurs within the cloud or between the cloud and ground. The air in a lightning bolt is 50,000Fº — five times hotter than the surface of the sun!! The rapid heating of air in the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in thunder.
Which way does lightning travel? A cloud to ground lightning strike begins as an invisible channel of electrically charged air moving from the cloud toward the ground. When a channel nears an object on the ground, a powerful surge of electricity from the ground moves upward to the cloud and produces the visible lightning strike.
Lightning Myths and Facts
MYTH: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
FACT: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
MYTH: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.
FACT: Rubber soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
MYTH: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
FACT: Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. Contact your local American Red Cross Chapter for information on CPR and first aid classes.
MYTH: "Heat lightning" occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.
FACT: What is referred to as "heat lightning" is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction.
Thunderstorms and Lightning Safety
Your chances of being struck by lightning are one in 600,000 but can be reduced by following safety rules. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors. In recent years, people have been killed by lightning while:
- loading a truck
- playing soccer
- fishing in a boat
- bike riding
- mountain climbing
- standing under a tree
- riding on a lawnmower
- talking on the phone
Lightning can strike anywhere!
Check the weather forecast before leaving for extended periods outdoors and watch for signs of approaching storms. Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. If you can hear thunder, seek shelter. Move to a sturdy building or car. Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees, or in a convertible. Get out of boats and away from water. Do not stay in the pool or take a bath/shower. Do not use electrical appliances or the telephone unless it is cordless.
If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground.