EMU’s weather expert suggests safety measures to help avoid being struck by lightning
YPSILANTI – The hazy, lazy days of summer could be a jolting experience for Michigan residents. June through August are the prime months for lightning activity in the state, said Eastern Michigan University’s weather expert Carl Ojala, professor of geography, who cautions people to respect lightning and its power.
That’s why June 20-26 has been designated National Lightning Safety Awareness Week by the National Weather Service. It’s a time when experts like Ojala and the weather service emphasize safety issues and bring the danger of lightning to the public’s attention. Lightning is a discharge of atmospheric electricity in the clouds or between clouds and the ground, usually occurring during a thunderstorm.
“If you can hear thunder, you’re in real danger. You can see lightning 50 miles in the distance, but if you can hear thunder, the lightning is about 10 miles away,” said Ojala, who has maintained the National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Station located on EMU’s campus since 1986.
By taking a few precautions, said Ojala, Michiganians may avoid becoming a lightning statistic. He recommends the following steps to follow during a thunderstorm:
“The most dangerous time for a lightning hit is just before and just after rainfall,” said Ojala. “And don’t think that lightning never strikes the same person or place twice.” A farmer in Kansas has been hit seven times and the Empire State Building is a lightning target 25-30 times a year.
Because lightning claims only one or two victims at a time, it usually receives less attention than tornados or hurricanes that cause mass destruction, according to the National Weather Service.
Michigan ranks second only to Florida for lightning activity. From 1959-2003, Michigan has had 810 lightning casualties, of those 708 were injuries and 102 were deaths, said Ojala.
Recent examples of lightning strikes include two deaths and three injuries. Three Washtenaw County men were hit in September 2003 as they were roofing a building. One died and two were injured. In Lenawee County, a woman was hit and killed in August 2003 as she stood in her backyard. That same day in Macomb County, a woman was injured when lightning struck as she was loading groceries into her car.
Out of every 10 lightning casualties, seven to eight survive, but they have long-term health problems, said Ojala.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive, metropolitan university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.