GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – As the state’s severe weather preparedness week continues, it’s important to remember that lightning is just as dangerous as anything else a storm throws our way.
Katie Flanagan, the director of athletic training at ECU and an expert on lightning says this: “Last year, the first two lightning deaths were in North Carolina. A guy was waiting in a parking lot for a friend to pick him up and someone else was waiting out lightning under a tree.”
North Carolina consistently ranks in the top 3 across the country for lightning deaths. Most of those deaths happen during lightning season, which runs from April through September. 95% of lightning strikes happen outside, so it’s important to remember the easy saying: “If thunder roars, go indoors,” says Flanagan. “And by indoors we mean a place where you would live and work, a place where there’s plumbing and electricity, so not a shed.” She adds: “The biggest thing: just because you’re not getting wet doesn’t mean you’re safe. so if you are under a tree, under a shelter, a bus shelter, a picnic shelter, and you’re not getting wet, you can still be struck by lightning.”
Once you’re in a safe place, wait 30 minutes after you last see lightning or last hear thunder before going back outside. Flanagan says that many people die from a lightning strike because they go back outside too soon or they are waiting too long to get to a place that’s safe.
Another big concern that’s really come to the forefront in the past couple of years is keeping fans in the stands at sporting events safe when lightning strikes.
“You not only have to protect your athletes and the active, but you also have to protect the spectators,” says Flanagan. “So we make announcements on where they should go in plenty of time for them to get to a safe place.”
Public safety officers at ECU were forced to clear the stands at a Pirate football game back in 2012 due to lightning. Fans went to the lower concourse of the stadium or to their cars for shelter for over an hour. No one was hurt and considering that nearly 50,000 fans were cleared in about 20 minutes, the evacuation was considered a success. Since 2012, ECU officials have adopted measures that will improve the amount of warning they give fans before another lightning evacuation in the future.
For more on lightning safety, click here.