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National Weather Service dispells common myths about lightning

Indian Valley Record of Greenville, California

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The month of August usually presents prime conditions for thunderstorms in Northern California.

Lightning strikes produced by storms can be deadly. As of last week, 21 people in the U.S. have been killed by lightning strikes in 2015, according to the National Weather Service.

The NWS urges people to take precautions when thunderstorms are in the area. The following are some myths and facts produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Myth: If you're caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.

Fact: Crouching doesn't make you any safer outdoors. Run to a substantial building or hard-topped vehicle. If you are too far away from one of these options, you have no good alternative. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors.

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall, pointed, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit nearly 100 times a year.

Myth: If it's not raining or there aren't clouds directly overhead, you're safe from lightning.

Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside rain or thunderstorm clouds. "Bolts from the blue" can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you'll be electrocuted.

Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning myths, since a death can occur if people are afraid to give CPR.

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.

Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than electrocuted.

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100 percent safe from lightning.

Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows.

Windows are hazardous for two reasons: windows can shatter during a thunderstorm; and in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can enter through cracks in the frames of windows.

Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are enjoying outside activities, it is okay to finish them before seeking shelter.

Fact: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough. No activities are worth death or life-long injuries. Seek safe shelter immediately if you hear thunder. Adults should ensure that children seek shelter quickly.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body — jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players or watches, for example — attract lightning.

Fact: Height, shape and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where lightning will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference to where lightning strikes.

Mountains are made of stone, but often get struck by lightning. When lightning threatens, immediately take safe shelter and don't waste time removing metallic items from your body. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing or bleachers.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, lie flat on the ground.

Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Myth: Lightning flashes are 2 to 3 miles apart.

Fact: Outdated data suggests successive flashes are 2 to 3 miles apart. New data shows half the flashes are about 6 miles apart. The National Severe Storms Laboratory report concludes: "It appears the safety rules need to be modified to increase the distance from a previous flash which can be considered to be relatively safe, to at least (6 to 8) miles."

Separate fact from fiction during a thunderstorm. Do seek safe shelter as quickly as possible. Don't assume that lighting will not hit in the same location. Do stay away from metal structures. Don't take shelter under a tree.

By following these simple guidelines, the frequent thunderstorms that occur in Plumas County during the sunttrie lwohths doh't — fflave-to be a deadly hazard.

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Original Publication Date: August 12, 2015

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