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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
The University of Illinois Tri-County Extension office
Blog: Staying safe in lightning storms
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By Farm and Extension News
The University of Illinois Tri-County Extension office covering Livingston, Woodford and McLean counties.
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By Kasey Kelly, American Red Cross
Aug. 6, 2013 2 p.m.

The American Red Cross wants to help educate people about the dangers associated with lightning, and what you should do to stay safe.

Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people each year than tornadoes or hurricanes. Heavy rain from thunderstorms can cause flash flooding, and high winds can damage homes and blow down trees and utility poles, causing widespread power outages. Thunderstorms and lightning occur more at this time of the year, but can happen year round.

With dry conditions and red flag warnings in western parts of the country, lightning strikes pose an additional threat with the potential to ignite wildfires. In Colorado, which is currently facing devastating wildfires, lightning starts around half of the wildfires where gusty winds fan the flames, spreading the wildfire.

LIGHTNING SAFETY TIPS At any given time, nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are occurring somewhere on earth. The Red Cross has important steps you and your loved ones can follow to stay safe during a thunderstorm:

Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder.

If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.

Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for the latest weather forecasts.

Even if there isn't a threat of tornadoes in your area, people can access emergency preparedness information and receive severe thunderstorm watch and warning alerts by downloading the "http://www.redcross.org/mobileapps" American Red Cross Tornado App.

As the storm approaches, take shelter in a building. If you are driving, pull off the roadway and park. Stay in the car with the windows closed and turn on the emergency flashers. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside of the vehicle. If you are inside, you should:

Unplug appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances. (Leaving electric lights on, however, does not increase the chances of your home being struck by lightning.)

Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.

Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job.

Draw blinds and shades over windows. If windows break due to objects blown by the wind, the shades will prevent glass from shattering into your home.

If you are caught outside during a thunderstorm and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground; water; tall, isolated trees and metal objects such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are not safe.

If you are swimming, clear everyone from the water at the first sound of thunder or first sight of lightning. Have everyone move inside, if possible. The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends waiting 30 minutes after the last lightning sighting or sound of thunder before resuming activities.

LIGHTNING FIRST AID According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), lightning injures an average of 300 people and causes about 80 fatalities each year. People struck by lightning can suffer permanent injuries or long-term symptoms including memory loss, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, irritability, weakness, fatigue, depression and others.

If someone is struck by lightning, check for burns and other injuries. If the person has stopped breathing, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR. The HYPERLINK "http://www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/first-aid-app" Red Cross First Aid App can help you know how to respond to these life threatening circumstances. Download the app today.

For more information on what to do to stay safe during these dangerous storms, review Red Cross "http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/thunderstorm" Thunderstorm and Lightning Safety Tips.

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