Lightning is a unique environmental occurrence that can cause unique problems for a person injured by it. The most common days for injury are Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday due to the higher number of people outdoors on those days. The most common time of day for injury is noon to 6 P.M., and the most dangerous time is when the victim underestimates the likelihood of injury — just before and right after the storm. Lightning may hit as far as ten miles in front of a storm, and it can be very difficult to know if the movement of clouds past one point means it’s over rather than pausing briefly as more storm clouds gather.
Knowing the weather forecast is important as you prepare for outdoor activities. You should also be aware of local thunderstorm patterns. The biggest risk factors are being out in bad weather without knowing the forecast, not paying attention to the weather, not having an evacuation plan if you are outside or not following the plan. Common geographic areas more prone to lightning are mountain ridges between 3 and 5 P.M., parts of Florida and the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and along major river valley areas.
There is danger whenever you see lightning or hear thunder. Lightning travels 10 to 12 miles in front of a storm, so clouds need not be present and there may be no rain. Your first priority in a storm should be to find shelter. School buses are excellent if you’re out on organized activities. Also look for a building strong enough to live in. Stay away from trees, small shelters, bleachers, fences and towers. Get out of the water, pools and wet areas. Come down from high areas such as mountain ridges when thunderstorms are likely. Avoid the use of telephones and electronic equipment during a thunderstorm. Do not resume activity until 30 minutes after the last lightning bolt or thunder blast.
Terea Giannetta, MSN, RN, CPNP, is a certified PNP and Chief PNP at Children’s Hospital Central California, where she has had a clinical practice in Hematology/ Oncology ambulatory clinic for the past 19 years. She is also full-time faculty and PNP Program Coordinator at California State University, Fresno.