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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Coastal Currents: When thunder roars, go indoors!

Coastal Currents: When thunder roars, go indoors!

Whether you're out in a boat, near a bayou, at the beach, or just hanging around the backyard ... when those summer thunderstorms come drifting along, it's important to pay attention and to stay safe.

Nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are going on at any given time somewhere around the world. That adds up to over 16 million a year!

All thunderstorms generate lightning. And with that, each year, just in the U.S., about 400 people are struck by lightning. As a result of those incidents, an average of over 60 people are actually killed by lightning annually and many others are seriously injured, many being left with permanent disabilities.

A flash of lightning can contain over a billion volts of electricity. This charged bolt of lightning is really hot, over 50,000 degrees F, more than five times hotter than the sun's surface! The super-heated air surrounding a lightning bolt expands and contracts so rapidly that it creates the sound waves we hear as thunder.

Some danger signs to look for that indicate a potential lightning-filled thunderstorm is approaching include dark, towering or threatening clouds, increasing wind, and distant lightning and thunder.

As a thunderstorm approaches prepare to stay safe by:
- Going inside a building or vehicle and closing the windows.
- Staying away from water, plumbing, and anything connected to power, phone, and cable lines.
- Staying low if you can't find shelter; away from tall trees and open areas.
- Squatting down in a low place with your hands over your ears; not lying down.
- Staying away from water and metal or anything else that conducts electricity.
- If in a boat, heading ashore, avoiding the thunderstorm if possible. (Boats unable to seek safety ashore should be properly grounded.)

Here are a few "Myth Busters" concerning lightning compiled by NOAA and Sea Grant.
MYTH: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
FACT: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.

MYTH: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.
FACT: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.

MYTH: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
FACT: Victims of a lightning strike carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. Apply first aid procedures if you are qualified to do so. Call 911 or send for help immediately.

MYTH: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
FACT: Lightning will strike several times in the same place in the course of one discharge.

Remember ... when thunder roars, go indoors! The safest place to go is inside large enclosed buildings. Picnic shelters, sheds, and other smaller shelters don't provide adequate protection from lightning strikes. If there are no enclosed buildings around, the second best places to go are enclosed metal vehicles such cars, trucks, and vans -- but not convertibles, soft-tops, and bikes.

After the storm has passed, you should wait at least 30 minutes following the last thunder crack before going back out into the open.

Alan Matherne is the Louisiana Sea Grant / LSU AgCenter Coastal, Fisheries, & Wildlife Outreach Specialist for Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Assumption parishes. He can be contacted at 985-873-6495 or His articles and blogs are posted at You can "Friend" him on Facebook at and follow his "Tweets" on Twitter at