Lightning can strike more than 30 miles away from a thunderstorm, safety tips to follow


MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — This week is Mississippi’s Severe Weather Preparedness Week, and today we are focusing on lightning safety.

According to the National Weather Service Storm Surveys, about 43 people each year lose their lives due to lightning. Meteorologist Colleen Peterson spoke with Brandon Black, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mobile, about how lightning is formed.

“You know ice, rain, and water mixing, you build up a static charge of electricity,” Brandon said. Then it will discharge as lightning either to the ground or inside of the cloud. The first sign to look for is a cumulonimbus cloud with a towering anvil.

“That’s usually the first sign that you are probably having a strong thunderstorm if you see a real big puffy white cloud,” Brandon said. “Then usually the next thing is you will hear distant thunder.”

While sound travels slower than light, it typically travels a greater distance. This is a sign to make your way indoors.

“So we always advise you can either get into your vehicle or into a building those are the two best solutions if you are caught outside,” Brandon said.

Lightning typically strikes within 10 miles of the thunderstorm but some strikes, known as ‘Blue Bolts,’ can strike over 30 miles away. Lightning looks for the tallest objects to use as an outlet.

“It could be a proximity strike to where it hits a tree nearby as lightning does branch out and try to find every possible outlet to the ground,” Brandon said.

That is why standing by trees, cell phone or water towers is dangerous. When you haven’t seen a strike or heard thunder for 30 minutes you are in the clear to go back outside. Remember always that when thunder roars, go indoors!

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