horizonal graphic

UIC News Tips
University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456, www.uic.edu/depts/paff

June 19, 2001 Contact: Carol Mattar, (312) 996-1583, cmattar@uic.edu


Summer storms are far more than inconveniences that disrupt outdoor activities. They are potential killers, according to Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, an emergency physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, who is recognized as the leading international authority on lightning strike injuries.

Cooper will join the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service and the PGA today to kick off a nationwide public awareness campaign about the dangers of lightning. The announcement of the first Lightning Safety Awareness Week (June 18-22) will take place at the Buick Classic Golf Tournament at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y.

Lightning kills more people in the United States than hurricanes or tornadoes, Cooper says. Only floods kill more. But the real story of lightning is the injuries, not the deaths, she points out.

The 90 percent who survive a lightning strike face lifelong debilitating injuries, according to Cooper. Because lightning tends to be a nervous-system injury, victims often seem slow because they have difficulty analyzing information. They may undergo personality changes, suffer from depression and chronic pain, be forgetful and inattentive, and have trouble sleeping.

Many return to work to find that tasks they used to do automatically now require intense concentration. They become exhausted after a few hours of work.

These life-changing injuries can be avoided by understanding the dangers of lightning and taking it seriously, Cooper says.

"Lightning safety is easy, but it is also inconvenient," she says. "The vast majority of lightning casualties can be easily avoided if people know what to do."

The unalterable rule is that no place outside is safe during thunderstorms, and some indoor activities are risky. Cooper's advice for avoiding lightning injury includes:

  • Know the weather forecast and plan activities around the weather. Those in charge of organized activities should develop and follow a plan to keep participants and spectators safe from lightning.
  • Beware of a developing thunderstorm. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from a rain area. If you can hear the thunder from a storm, you could be within striking distance.
  • Don't hesitate; seek shelter immediately. Wait 30 minutes or more after you hear the last thunder and see the last lightning to leave shelter or resume outdoor activities.
  • Know the proper shelter: a large, fully enclosed, substantially constructed building (with wiring and plumbing in the walls), such as a house.
  • A reasonable second choice is a vehicle with a solid metal top and metal sides. Cars are safe because of their metal shells; convertibles or vehicles with fiberglass or plastic shells are not safe. Close the windows, lean away from the door, put your hands in your lap and don't touch the steering wheel, ignition, gearshift or radio.
  • Avoid higher elevations; wide-open areas such as sports fields; tall, isolated objects such as trees, poles and light posts; metal fences and bleachers; open vehicles, including golf carts with roofs; unprotected open buildings such as picnic pavilions and bus shelters; and water-related activities, including swimming in indoor pools.
  • If you are caught without shelter, keep several body lengths between members of the group and use the lightning crouch: put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head and cover your ears.
  • Indoors, stay away from windows and doors to avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. Turn off your computer before the storm arrives.

- UIC -

Copyright © 2001 University of Illinois at Chicago
Weekly Advisory Experts Guide News Bureau Staff News Tips Index News Bureau