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Weather Official: 'Alarming Increase' in Lightning Deaths

We can all stop arguing about whether the climate is changing. Evidence is overwhelming, from shrinking glaciers to melting polar ice caps and seas rising at twice the rate of the pre-industrial era. Animals are changing migration and mating patterns; in the North, 125 lakes disappeared; river ice is melting sooner in spring. This year is expected to be the hottest, stormiest and driest on record. The big remaining question is how much of the trend is natural (scientists admitted they know little about the Sun's role!) and how much is exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, a host of studies made dire predictions about the inevitability of rising temperatures and swamped coastlines over the next century. Nasty side effects were predicted: more intense rainstorms; worse droughts; stronger hurricanes; increased allergies; ice-free arctic summers; and economic costs. A couple novel solutions were proposed: altering airline flights and lofting a ring of miniature satellites to shade the equator. Tempers rose in 2005, too, with the year closing on a low note from the perspective of more than 150 nations who pledged to do something about the problem, without the support of the United States or China.

Lightning killed at least 14 people in the United States during the second half of July, a pace twice as deadly as in a typical year for the same two weeks.

"In the past two weeks, we've seen an alarming increase in the number of lightning deaths in this country," said John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert with the NOAA National Weather Service. "People are ignoring the common warning signs of thunderstorms or failing to get to a safe place when thunderstorms threaten."

So far this year, lightning has claimed 27 lives in 19 states. Three other deaths in the last two weeks might have been lightning-related but are not in the officials statistics.

Among the lightning deaths this year:

  • Four involved teens playing soccer in three separate incidents.
  • Three were golf-related.
  • Two people were riding lawn mowers.

"Unfortunately, the same fatal mistakes that have been made for centuries are being repeated today," Jensenius said today. "With lightning, there is no safe place outside when a thunderstorm is nearby. If you can hear thunder, you're likely within striking distance of the storm and need to get to a safe place immediately."

In an average year, 66 Americans are killed by lightning and hundreds are injured.

NOAA's advice: Seek safety in a substantial building. If unable to do so, a hard-topped metal vehicle is a good second choice. Once inside, avoid contact with any electrical equipment or plumbing, stay off corded phones, and stay away from windows and doors. Remain inside for 30 minutes after the thunderstorm has passed.