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National Weather Service Offers Lightning Safety Tips

For many people, summer time means backyard barbecues, float trips and sports camps. But it is also the time of year for severe weather. Lightning kills about 55 people nationwide every year, with hundreds more injured. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe offers tips on how to stay safe when lightning strikes are happening nearby.

[NAT SOUND: football practice]

I'm standing on the field at Plaster Sports Complex here on the campus of Missouri State University, where the football team is just now wrapping up a summer practice. It's a beautiful day outside right now, but that does not mean thunderstorms can't roll in later this afternoon. Storms are always a threat, especially this time of year, and precautions should be taken even if the weather looks great at first. So what exactly is lightning? Well, according to the National Weather Service's website, a channel develops from the reaction of negatively charged particles inside a thunderstorm with positively charged particles on the ground. And we see the electrical transfer in this channel as lightning. Now, obviously the football players would seek cover in one of the many buildings here on campus if lightning was near, but what if they were in an open field, with no available shelter nearby? Experts say it's best to crouch down on the balls of your feet, keeping twice as far away from the nearest tree as the tree's height. Avoid bodies of water, electrical poles and metal objects like golf clubs, fishing rods, cleated shoes, tools, that kind of thing. Wes Browning is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Saint Louis, and offered us another tip:

“If you’re caught outside, one of the safer places to be actually is in a car, because if lightning strikes near the car or the car itself, that current will be conducted around that metal sheathing and down into the ground,” said Browning.

Lightning is one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous phenomena. It travels up to speeds of 140,000 miles per hour, reaching temperatures of 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. After striking Earth, it can spread out in a radius of 60 feet. Browning warns people not to take lightning strikes lightly.

“If you can hear thunder, you need to seek shelter. Just because something may have struck two miles away, the previous lightning bolt, it could get you the next time, because there have been documented cases where lightning bolts have shot out up to 10 miles away from the actual rain shaft and thunderstorm itself,” Browning said.

Even if you are inside, you can still get struck by lightning. Browning warns not to use electrical appliances, or to take a shower. He says another common household item presents a danger.

“One of the primary places people get injured inside is if they’re on the phone, if they’re on a landline, because that’s connected to a wire of course and that wire is going to conduct a lot of electricity. So that’s where a majority of indoor injuries comes from is people on the phone,” he said.

Remember, avoid windows and covered patios during thunderstorms. When necessary, car garages are safe, but only away from the sides and on lower levels. For more information on lightning facts and safety, visit the National Weather Service’s website at For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.