UIC, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AND PGA DELIVER LIGHTNING AWARENESS MESSAGE
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:
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