February 18-22 marks Severe Weather Awareness Week in Arkansas. This campaign is designed to encourage residents of the state to be educated on the dangers of severe weather to keep them safe in times of inclement conditions. Today we focus on the hazards of lightning.
Thousands of thunderstorms occur in Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma every year primarily in the late spring and summer months. All thunderstorms contain dangerous lightning but severe thunderstorms can also generate damaging winds, large hail, tornadoes, and flash flooding.
A thunderstorm only reaches severe criteria once it produces winds of 58 miles per hour or greater, hail over 1 inch in diameter, or a tornado.
Lightning is a discharge of energy from clouds to the ground or other clouds we see has a lightning flash. This is caused by friction in thunderstorms.
Lightning from these storms are the number 2 weather related killer in the United States. In 2012, 28 people were killed by lightning although none of these deaths occurred in Arkansas. Hundreds of others are also injured, suffering permanent damage such as memory loss, chronic pain, dizziness, and more. Typically Arkansas has over 800 thousand cloud to ground strikes a year.
If you can hear thunder, you are likely in the striking distance of lightning. In this case, avoid being outdoors. Seek shelter in a vehicle or a sturdy structure. Avoid being near wiring and plumbing which provide paths for electric current.