Wicked Weather Week: Lightning

Wicked Weather Week: Lightning

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WASHINGTON -

We are entering the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather threats: lightning.

According to NOAA, an average of 53 people are struck and killed by lightning in the United States each year, but there may be ten times that number who are injured every year.

It is often under-reported, but one thing is known: 82 percent of the victims are male.

Hundreds of millions of volts of electricity. It can heat the air it passes through to 50,000 degrees. Yet it can pass through a human and not kill.

George Judd knows what it's like. It happened five years ago, but his memory is as clear as the weather was that day. He and a friend began kayaking on the Rappahannock River.

"All of a sudden we heard a rumble of thunder,” he said. “Well, that's not good."

They waited until they saw the lightning to start paddling to shore. It's a classic mistake.

"The lightning came down and hit me in the hip,” Judd said. “It had taken my pair of running shorts and disintegrated them completely.”

"I was floating in the water and I heard my buddy say, ‘Oh no. Are you okay?’ And I opened my mouth and a puff of smoke or steam came out,” he recalled.

The lightning left him temporarily paralyzed with third-degree burns. It entered at his hip and exited through his toes. He spent four days in a burn unit.

"I wake up the next morning and it felt like someone just beat me with a baseball bat,” said Judd. “Everything just ached unbelievably.”

Chris Strong from the National Weather Service recognizes the pattern.

"The strikes that get people are usually are those first few strikes that come down when people still think they’re safe, but there’s still that electricity in the storm that could still discharge as lightning."

“When thunder roars, go indoors is the big slogan,” he added. “It’s time to get inside and remove yourself from the threat.”

And keep in mind some simple safety measures when lightning threatens.

Lightning will strike the highest object, which is why it's never safe under a tree.

What about your car? It's a myth that rubber tires insulate you. If lightning strikes, you’re safe because the metal frame conducts the charge to the ground.

You are safe in your home, but you can still be affected indirectly if your home is struck. During a storm, you need to avoid anything that conducts electricity like appliances, computers, plumbing and corded phones.

Judd celebrated his survival by hiking Mount Whitney in California six weeks later. He posed with this sign on the mountain.

And on the one-year anniversary of his close encounter, he kayaked in the same spot after tattooing a more permanent reminder on his shoulder.

“I have to feel I'm truly lucky and blessed,” he said. “I'm not scared of lightning. There is a new respect for it I would say.”

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