State Farm: Georgia leads in lightning paid claims

Georgia leads the nation in insurance claims for lightning strikes, according to State Farm, the state’s largest home and auto insurer.

State Farm said it paid out more than $200 million in insurance claims related to lightning strikes last year, with Georgia ranking No. 1 with $21 million in payouts for 3,844 claims.

Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton said lightning strikes appear to be more active this year than in the past few years, when there were fewer thunderstorms and the region was under drought conditions.

“We are no longer in a drought, and this pattern brings in more storms, more often,” Minton said Thursday.

Metro Atlanta has been hit by major storms in recent weeks, and Minton said another wet period is in the eight- to 14-day weather outlook. There is a 20 percent chance of rain Saturday and a 40 percent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Georgia had 585,944 ground-to-cloud lightning flashes last year, according to the National Lightning Detection Network. The peak season for strikes is summer, with July as the most active month. Most of the strikes in Georgia are concentrated around metro Atlanta, east-central Georgia along the 20-mile-wide fall line between Columbus and Augusta, and along the Atlantic Coast, according to Minton

While the number of overall paid insurance claims last year was down 19 percent from the previous year, according to the Insurance Information Institute, insurers paid out more money last year ($969 million, compared with $952 in 2011) and the average cost per claim was higher ($6,400 in 2012, compared with $5,112 in 2011).

Following Georgia, State Farm said paid claims were highest in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Tennessee. The claims have been driven by fire damage to homes and to electronics, including plasma and high-definition television sets, home entertainment centers, multiple computers, smart phones and gaming systems.

Lightning can cause a range of injuries, from severe burns and memory loss, to seizures and death. It is the second-leading cause of storm-related deaths in the U.S., following floods.

Since 1959, lightning has caused 109 deaths in Georgia, although there have been no fatalities so far this year, according to the National Weather Service. Nationally, there have been seven deaths so far this year.

Minton said taking precautions during thunderstorms can help prevent injuries and death.

“If outdoors, get inside to safe shelter,” the meteorologist said. “Never take shelter under a tree. Stay off corded phones, computer and other electrical equipment. Stay away from water, plumbing, including sinks, baths, showers and faucets.”

Lightning Safety Awareness Week is next week.