WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Bolts from the Blue

Posted July 24, 2008

After a very dry summer last year, it seems like we've got an over-abundance of thunderstorms and rainfall this summer.  That's good news for the drought, but with every thunderstorm (severe or "garden variety") comes lightning.  On average, lightning kills more people every year than tornadoes, but unlike tornadoes, we can't forecast where lightning will strike.

What's more, lightning can seem to strike from out of the blue.  Consider this email from our Fayetteville Bureau earlier this week:

Subject: kaboom

Lightning just hit the bureau… we smell smoke but all our electronics seems to be working.
I don’t know what got hit.
We will be live in the bureau if the fire department and safety allows.
The sun was out and no rain… You never know…

Lightning must, of course, have a parent thunderstorm to strike; however, that thunderstorm doesn't have to be right overhead for lightning to strike where you are.  Some of the most fatal lightning strikes have been these "bolts from the blue" -- lightning strikes from distant thunderstorms that strike well away from the storm itself.  That's exactly what happened here

Fortunately, our gear was fairly well protected, and our staff was shaken up but none the worse for wear, but had they been outside or unprepared, that email could have had a different ending.

In a nutshell, if you are close enough to a thunderstorm to hear thunder or see lightning (even so-called "heat lightning"), you are close enough to be struck.  Your best bet is to take shelter inside a building or a car and avoid touching metal objects.  {{a href="external-link_1"}}NOAA's Lightning Safety website{{/a}} has a number of other tips to keep you safe.

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