Summer is here and the recent rain notwithstanding, the weather has been nice so far. I'm fairly certain we all share the hope for a balance of weather this season -- enough rain to keep things growing, and sunshine, particularly on the weekends. While a perfect summer is always possible, we have to prepare for some of the riskier scenarios this time of year can produce.
The National Weather Service (NWS) recognized the week of June 22-28 as Lightning Safety Awareness Week. The occasion was an opportunity to remind everyone of the dangers associated with lightning and how to reduce the risk of injury in a storm. Thunderstorms frequently pop up in Vermont during the summer months, which makes it that much more important that we all prepare and heed the risks.
-- Before a Storm: Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage or injury. Secure windows and outside doors.
-- Seek Shelter: Watch for developing thunderstorms. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining. That's about the distance you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.
-- Stop Outdoor Activities: Most lightning deaths and injuries occur in the summer, where organized outdoor sports activities take place. Coaches, camp counselors, and other adults should stop activities at the first roar of thunder to ensure everyone has time to get a large building or enclosed vehicle. Leaders of outdoors events should have a written plan that all staff are aware of and enforce.
-- Things to Avoid Indoors: Inside a building, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Stay away from pools, indoor or outdoor; tubs, showers, and other plumbing. Buy surge suppressors for key equipment. Install ground fault protectors on circuits near water or outdoors. When inside, wait 30 minutes after the last strike, before going out again.
-- Helping a Lightning Strike Victim: If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical care immediately. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning. However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike. You are in no danger helping a lightning victim. The charge will not affect you.
Thunderstorms usually come and go so there is often time to get back to whatever it was you were doing. However, the heavy downpours that sometimes occur could cause localized flooding so look out for that. It's never safe to drive or walk through floodwaters so find another way to get to your destination if there's water in your path.
Most importantly, always keep an eye on the forecast when planning activities. The National Weather Service in Albany is the forecast office for Windham and Bennington counties and its forecast page can be found at www.weather.gov/aly. The National Weather Service also maintains a Lightning Safety Page (from which most of the information for this article was obtained) which is worth visiting: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/.
Mark Bosma is the Public Information Officer at the VT Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He is responsible for public education and emergency communications during an emergency event.