This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
June 21-27 is Lightning Safety Awareness Week. With smoke in the air from a lightning-caused fire to our south, lightning safety — and the related topic of fire safety — is particularly relevant to our community. Each year, there are approximately 25 million lightning strikes in the United States. With each strike carrying up to a billion volts of electricity, there’s plenty of potential for injury or damage.
Our area has fantastic opportunities to take part in recreational activities. Our nearby mountains and lakes provide a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. However, weather can change quickly and without warning, and what begins as a day hike, boating trip, or softball game can turn into a dangerous situation quickly if a summer afternoon storm approaches.
Carson City Health and Human Services wants to make sure our community has the tools needed to stay safe when lightning strikes.
• Prevention is the best way to avoid danger. Before heading out, check the weather forecast for the area. If thunderstorms are predicted, alter your plans to ensure you’re off the mountain, back onshore, or finished with your activity before the weather turns threatening.
• Your first choice in a thunderstorm should always be to seek shelter in an enclosed building or a vehicle. Remember: When thunder roars, head indoors.
• Go inside as soon as your hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, lightning is nearby. Remain inside until 30 minutes after the storm has passed.
Sometimes, storms happen with little warning. There’s no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm, but if you’re unable to go indoors, follow these tips from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to decease your risk of being struck by lightning.
• Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
• Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you’re in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
• If you’re in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
• If you’re camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lightning.
• Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal don’t attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.
• The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with no cabin. If you’re out and can’t get back to land and safety, drop anchor and get as low as possible.
The energy in a lightning strike is immense. A bolt of lightning can heat the surrounding air to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s no wonder then lightning can set off fires, especially in dry, drought-parched terrain. While there’s nothing you can do to prevent a lightning strike igniting a fire, you can take steps now to protect your home and property if a fire does threaten. Visit www.carsonfire.org and click on Fire Adapted Communities for tips on creating defensible space around your home.
To learn more about lightning and lightning safety, go to www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov. For more information about other Health Department services, check out our website at www.gethealthycarsoncity.org or visit us at www.facebook.com/cchhs.