VIRGINIA BEACH — What is hotter than the surface of the sun and on average strikes Virginia more than 275,000 times a year?
The answer of course is lightning.
While fatalities because of lightning strikes are minimal – there have been only three in the state during the past 10 years – it doesn’t negate the danger lightning poses.
“The 30/30 rule states that if you can count 30 seconds or less between thunder and lightning, you need to move indoors because the storm is close enough to cause a threat,” Sutton said. “Once the storm passes, wait 30 minutes before returning to outdoor activities.”
According to the National Weather Service, July is the most common month for lightning related deaths in the United States, followed by June and August respectively.
Across the nation the number of fatalities because of lightning varies widely. One might think California would lead, because of the sheer number of people there, but they’ve only had six in the past 10 years. Texas might be another logical choice, because it’s so big and there are so many storms, and they are indeed second in the nation with 20 fatalities.
The leader though is Florida, where over the past 10 years 47 people have been killed by lightning.
North Carolina, Virginia’s neighbor to the south, has had more than four-times the number of lightning-related fatalities, with 14 since 2008.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 80-percent of the fatalities from lightning strikes are men, and most were between the ages of 20-29.
From 2006 to 2017, 34 fishermen were struck and killed by lightning; 22 beach-goers; 19 campers; 17 boaters; 12 soccer players; and, perhaps surprisingly, just 10 people were struck and killed while playing golf.
“If you are near or on the water and you see lightning you need to seek shelter immediately,” Sutton said. “All the hotels at the Oceanfront allow visitors to seek shelter. If you are on the water you need to make your way to land as quickly as possible even if it is not your final destination, you need to exit the boat, paddleboard, kayak, or whatever, and utilize the 30/30 rule.”
She said that you should avoid shielding yourself using natural lightning rods, for example, tall trees, especially those that stand alone, an antenna, or standing in an open field.
If no shelter is available, crouch low, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible. Lightning causes electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When indoors it is important to get out of indoor pools, move away from windows and limit the use of electrical devices in your residence,” Sutton said. “Plumbing, wiring, and concrete conduct electricity and can be hazardous during a severe thunderstorm. Refrain from bathing during a storm, watching TV, and talking on landlines until the storm passes.”
If your home is struck by lightning, she said you should evacuate the structure and call 911. It’s not advisable to try and extinguish a fire yourself.
Lightning can strike people in five different ways: A direct strike, as it sounds, is when a person is struck directly, usually when in an open area; a side flash, in which lightning hits something, a tree perhaps, and then jumps to a person under it; ground current, which is the voltage from a strike travelling through the ground and being conducted up into a person; conduction is when a person is in contact with something, usually metal or a wire, and lightning travels though it to the person; and finally streamers, which are lightning branches of sorts that discharge from the downward moving leader.