ST. LOUIS – St. Louis summers mean heat, humidity, and storms. Storms mean dangerous lightning. With so many people spending a lot of time outdoors, it’s imperative to be aware of when lightning may be nearby.
Recent lightning data shows that Missouri has the third highest amount of lightning strikes per square kilometer, behind Florida and Oklahoma. Most of these strikes occur during the summer months.
A typical lightning flash is 300 million volts and 30,000 amps and can light a 100-watt incandescent bulb for about three months. The air it passes through can be heated to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Lightning strikes injure hundreds of people in the United states a year.
Many lightning deaths happen at the beginning of an approaching storm but some occur once the storm has passed. Lightning can strike where it’s not raining, and even when there is sunshine overhead.
“We do have a saying in the national weather service. When thunder roars, go indoors. Because if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning,” said Mark Fuchs, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.
There is no safe place outdoors when you can hear thunder. But if there is no safe shelter around you need to make sure you stay away from trees and metal objects.
Get to a safe building or a vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning, or see threatening clouds developing. Stay there for 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.
If you are out camping, get to your car. If you’re out on the water, get to shore and seek shelter immediately.
“A lot of people get hit on their boats and that’s obviously a bad place to be as well because you’re out in the open,” Fuchs said. “And you are on a lake you are the tallest object whether you like it or not.”
We have a lot of opportunities for lightning awareness this week. When storms are in the forecast, have your lightning safety plan ready if you are going to be spending time outdoors.
“Don’t be caught out in the open. Don’t be caught being that tallest object during the middle of a thunderstorm out in the middle of an open field. Or be caught next to tall objects like tall trees in a forest,” said Fuchs. “When thunder roars, absolutely, go indoors.”
If you get stuck in a storm with no place to go, get to the lowest elevation possible. Stay away from tall objects and metal. If you’re in an open field, get as low as you can and try to get into a ditch or low crevasse.