32nd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology/31st Conference on Radar Meteorology/Fifth Conference on Coastal Atmospheric and Oceanic Prediction and Processes

Monday, 11 August 2003: 1:00 PM
Lightning Safety Public Education—A Mandate For Broadcast Meteorologists (Formerly Paper 9.4)
William P. Roeder, U.S. Air Force/45th Weather Squadron, Patrick AFB, FL; and T. C. Skilling, B. B. Sussman, J. D. Jones, M. A. Lozano, and G. S. Forbes
Lightning Safety Public Education – A Mandate For Broadcast Meteorologists

Lightning is the second leading cause of storm related deaths in the United States, killing more than tornadoes or hurricanes. Lightning also inflicts life-long debilitating injury on many more than it kills. Fortunately, most lightning casualties can be easily, quickly, and cheaply prevented. Public education is the key. We need to increase public awareness of the lightning threat and of the lightning safety rules. The American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association have recently published policy statements on lightning safety. These policy statements include calls for increased public education by meteorologists, especially by broadcast meteorologists since they have continual ready access to large segments of the population. This presentation will briefly survey the lightning threat, and the basics of lightning safety. This presentation will also cover the desired role of broadcast meteorologists in educating the public on lightning safety, discuss the resources available for teaching lightning safety, and present various techniques that broadcasters have found effective in lightning safety education. Some of the effective techniques for major stories include interviewing lightning survivors, lightning safety myth busting, and coverage of local lightning casualties or major damage. The best times for major lightning safety stories are the start of your local lightning season, national Lightning Safety Awareness Week (now always the last full week of June), adding lightning safety to state and regional severe weather awareness weeks, and declaring your own local lightning week or month. Frequent reminders throughout the lightning season are also recommended, especially when major local outdoor events are scheduled. These reminders can be done very quickly, in even one to a few sentences. Outreach to your local schools is vital. Ingraining lightning safety into our children could significantly reduce lightning casualties within a generation. Adding lightning safety to your station’s webpage is important to make the information readily available to your viewers continuously. Locally sponsored lightning symposiums often have mixed results. Attendance is often lower than expected, but that may not be too bad if the attendees are key people, such as emergency managers, athletic program leaders, school leaders, and anyone conducting outdoor events. Lightning symposiums can generate considerable material for broadcasts. However, they can be costly to produce, both in time and funds. Lightning safety is best taught as a five-level process of ever decreasing safety. The first and best level of lightning safety is to avoid the threat. Plan outdoor activities to avoid thunderstorms--use your local forecast and know your local weather patterns. The second level is using the '30-30 Rule' when outside. If there is 30 seconds or less between lightning and its thunder, go inside. Stay inside for 30 minutes or more after hearing the last thunder. Also watch the skies for locally developing thunderstorms. A large fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing offers good protection, e.g. a typical house. But stay off corded telephones, away from electrical appliances and wiring, and away from plumbing. A vehicle with a solid metal roof and metal sides gives some protection. The third level enters dangerous territory. While outside with thunderstorms in the area, avoid the most dangerous locations and activities. Avoid elevated locations and open areas, including sports fields. Do not go under trees to keep dry during a thunderstorm! Avoid water-related activities like swimming, boating, and fishing. Open picnic pavilions, or other rain shelters, provide no protection from lightning. Level-4 is a desperate last-resort procedure for when you’ve made several bad decisions and are outside, away from shelter, and lightning is nearby. Details will be provided at the briefing. Finally, the fifth level is first aid. Lightning deaths are from cardiac arrest or the resultant stopped breathing. CPR or rescue breathing is the recommended first aid, respectively. Broadcast meteorologists can play a decisive and profound role in the battle against lightning casualties. The authors hope this presentation encourages more broadcast meteorologists to join this vital public service to save lives and avoid crippling injuries.

USEFUL WEBSITES NOAA Lightning Safety – Lightning Safety Awareness Week www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/media/

National Severe Storms Laboratory www.nssl.noaa.gov/researchitems/lightning.html

National Lightning Safety Institute www.lightningsafety.com

Lightning Injury Research www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury

Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International www.lightning-strike.org

National Collegiate Athletic Association www.ncaa.org/sports_sciences/sports_med_handbook/1d.pdf

University Of Florida – Lightning Safety and Boating www.thomson.ece.ufl.edu/lightning

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