WILMINGTON — Each year, lightning strikes the United States more than 25 million times. It kills approximately 47 people per year and, according to the National Weather Service, injures hundreds more.
Earlier this week, Southeastern North Carolina was hit by powerful thunderstorms, causing damage and dangerous conditions across much of the area.
According to Wilmington Fire Department spokesman Sammy Flowers, between the hours of 11:52 a.m. and 3:40 p.m. Monday, the department responded to 19 different emergency calls, including offering assistance to the Wrightsville Beach and New Hanover County departments as well. This storm caused three different structure fires, with seven homes being struck by lightning.
Being on the coast, the Cape Fear Region experiences a high level of thunderstorm activity during the summer months. According to the National Weather Service, thunderstorms are a great way for the atmosphere to release energy.
The National Weather Service says that there are three main ways lightning to enter a structure: through a direct strike, wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, and through the ground.
After striking a home lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, televisions. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said: “We encourage every family to develop a severe weather plan so that everyone in their household knows where to go if severe weather threatens where you live.”
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) there are some simple tips you can follow to reduce your chances of being struck, as well as protecting your home and valuables:
- Install lightning rods and a grounding system on your home or business. These are designed to protect a house or a building from a direct lightning strike and, in particular, a lightning-initiated fire. The National Weather Service notes that lightning protection systems do not prevent lightning from striking the structure, but rather intercept a lightning strike, providing a conductive path for the harmful electrical discharge to follow (the appropriate UL-listed copper or aluminum cable), and disperse the energy safely into the ground.
- Stay off corded phones. Cell phones are OK.
- Don’t touch electrical equipment such as computers, TVs, or cords.
- Avoid plumbing. Do not wash your hands, take a shower or wash dishes.
- When going outside, plan ahead so that you can get to a safe place quickly if a thunderstorm threatens.
- If the sky looks threatening or if you hear thunder, get inside a safe place immediately.
- Once inside, avoid contact with corded phones, electrical equipment, windows and doors.
- Finally, wait 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder before going back outside.
For more in formation, and additional lightning safety tips, visit the NOAA website at lightningsafety.noaa.gov.