Thunderstorms and Lightning
It's estimated that at any given moment, nearly 2,000 thunderstorms
are in progress over the earth's surface, and lightning strikes the earth
100 times each second. There are about 45,000 thunderstorms daily and 16
million annually around the world. There are at least 100,000
thunderstorms annually across the United States. On average, there are
about 100 people killed and 250 injured by lightning each year in the
United States. Property loss from lightning strikes is estimated in the
hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Generally, most people do not perceive lightning as a major hazard.
Many deaths and injuries could be avoided if people would have more
respect for lightning. Michigan ranks 11th nationwide in deaths from
lightning, and second in injuries. According to National Weather Service
statistics for a 30-year period, 88 deaths and 570 injuries occurred in
Michigan as a result of lightning. Over 80 percent of these injuries and
deaths occurred in the months of June, July and August.
Large outdoor gatherings are particularly vulnerable to lightning
strikes, which could result in many lightning related injuries and deaths.
For example, in August 1975, 90 people were injured by a lightning strike
at a campground near Leslie (Ingham County).
Lightning Safety Rules
Check the latest weather forecast and keep an eye on the sky. At
signs of an impending storm - such as towering thunderheads, darkening
skies, lightning and increasing wind - head for shelter and tune in the
radio or television for weather information.
When a thunderstorm threatens, stay indoors. Stay clear of open
doors, window, fireplaces, radiators, metal pipes, stoves, sinks and
electrical appliances. Personal appliances such as electric hair dryers
and razors should not be used until the storm is over. Delay telephone
use as well.
If you are caught outside, do not stand underneath a tall isolated
tree or a utility pole. Avoid projecting above the surrounding
landscape. In a wooded area, seek shelter in a low area under a thick
growth of small trees. In open areas, go to a low place such as a ravine
Do not swim or stay in a boat during a thunderstorm.
Get off bicycles, motorcycles or golf carts.
Golfers should put down their clubs. Stay away from wire fences,
metal pipes and rails. If you are in a group out in the open, spread
out, keeping people several yards apart.
Open agricultural field work should be stopped, and shelter should
be sought. Tractors in open fields are often struck by lightning.
Remember, lightning may strike miles from the parent cloud. Strikes
of up to seven miles ahead of a storm have been documented. Precautions
should be taken even though the thunderstorm is not overhead.
If you are caught in the open, far from shelter, and you feel your
hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike you. Crouch on the
balls of your feet. Place your elbows on your knees and cover your ears
with your hands. Do not lie flat on the ground.
Persons struck by lightning receive a severe electrical shock and may
be burned, but they carry no electrical charge and they can be handled
Someone who appears to have been killed by lightning often can be
revived by prompt action.
An American Red Cross first aid course provides excellent instruction
on how to render aid to a person who has been struck by lightning.
Thunderstorms are generated by temperature imbalances in the
atmosphere. These storms are characterized by strong winds, heavy
precipitation (rain or hail), lightning and thunder. A severe thunderstorm
is classified by the National Weather Service as a storm that has winds of
58 mph or more, or has hailstones of 3/4 inch in diameter.
Flash floods can result from locally heavy rain associated with a
Hailstones are precipitation in the form of ice that form during some
thunderstorms. Hail can be devastating to agricultural crops and can cause
heavy damage to automobiles, aircraft, roofs and windows.
Downbursts are intense concentrations of sinking air which fan out
upon striking the earth's surface, producing damaging winds. Frequently,
damage that is attributed to tornadoes is actually caused by the straight
winds of a downburst.
Tornadoes always spawn from thunderstorms, but not every thunderstorm
is intense enough to support tornado development.
Thunderstorm Watches and Warnings
A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH is issued when weather conditions
are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms. Watches are
usually issued for large areas of lower Michigan and typically last for
2 to 6 hours.
The watch period gives you time to prepare for a possible storm.
When Midland County is within a severe thunderstorm area, you should
place objects like trash cans and bicycles indoors. Make sure the entire
family is informed of the watch. Keep an eye out for changing weather
conditions and listen for updated weather statements and warnings.
A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING is issued by the National
Weather Service Office at White Lake whenever a severe thunderstorm has
been sighted or is strongly indicated by radar. Warnings are usually 30
to 60 minutes long.
Act immediately when you first hear the warning. If severe weather
is reported near you, seek shelter immediately. If not, keep a constant
lookout for severe weather, and stay near shelter.