Don’t get zapped: Avoid being struck by lightning

Weather Week

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The saying goes, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. That sentiment is echoed by Hopkins Hill District Fire Chief Frank Brown.

“We believe the best place to take shelter is indoors,” Brown said. “Being outdoors – under a tree or under or an awning – is not good.”

Between 1959 and 2017, the National Weather Service says Rhode Island recorded eight lightning-related deaths, while Massachusetts saw 32.

Lightning is seen more often during summer months because it’s the time of year when the most convective storms occur. It can also strike during the winter months during powerful storms.

Brown recalled an incident that took place in Coventry nearly a decade ago when lightning struck the Foster Memorial Field.

“On this particular day, the storm had already gone through. So the ground was all wet,” Brown said. “People ventured back out on to the baseball field and there was a lightning strike in the area.”

“Several people felt a tingling sensation,” he added. “Even though the storm has passed you should wait a little while before you venture back outside again.”

Thankfully, Brown said no one was injured.

During the summer, many people like to hit the links. But the golf course can be a dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm.

Owner of Coventry Pines Golf Club Chris Anderson said they have a number of safety measures in place to ensure golfers on their course are warned of inclement weather.

“To help keep people safe on the course, we do have a lightning detector,” Anderson said. “If that goes off, we sound the horn.”

Anderson said the lightning detector warns them of any lightning strikes within 15-miles of the course. He said golfers know when they hear the horn, they should seek shelter immediately.

Those on an open fairway are typically the tallest object, making that person a likely target for a lightning strike.

“This golf course is nothing but big open spaces and trees,” Anderson said. “We do encourage people to get off the course.”

When seeking shelter during a thunderstorm, it’s important to find a sturdy building with plumbing, that way the electrical current passes through and into the ground. You shouldn’t touch anything made of metal either since metal is a known conductor of electricity.

Web Extra: Avoid being struck by lightning

According to the Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s office, there are on average 12 house fires caused by lightning per year.

Brown said he’s no stranger to fighting fires caused by lightning.

“One, in particular, struck a chain link fence and traveled probably 50-feet down towards the house,” Brown recalled. “The chain link fence was up against a house, and that caused the house to catch on fire.”

The heat generated by lightning is measured at 50,000 50,000°F, which is 4.85 times hotter than the surface of the sun.

To protect your home from fire following a lightning strike, Brown suggests making sure your home is properly grounded.

“Put surge protectors on those very important, big dollar pieces of electronics you have in your house. That will go a long way,” Brown said.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance companies across the nation paid $908 million in claims in 2018 because of lightning strikes.

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