Lightning Strike Kills Man at South Carolina Barbecue

Fatal lightning strikes down this year, but don’t let your guard down

Fatal lightning strikes are on track to dip to their lowest level in a decade.

Lightning has killed seven people in the U.S. so far in 2019, down from 14 deaths over the same period the year before, according to the National Weather Service. In 2018, lightning killed 20 people. 

No Georgians have been killed by lightning so far this year. But meteorologists warn July is the rainiest month in Atlanta, and pop-up storms always pose a risk. 

“As the storms develop, the first lightning they produce may come as a surprise because there hadn’t been any lightning up to that point,” Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said.

A North Georgia man was among those killed last year. Egan Stanley was fishing with his children at the Dalton Golf and Country Club when he was struck by lightning on July 4, 2018.

Image of a lightning strike taken in Woodstock. (Photo: Matthew Butcher)

Severe Thunderstorm Warning issued for Cherokee County

Photo: � 2019 Cox Media Group. WSB-TV

This year on July 4, a 44-year-old father of two was with family and friends along a South Carolina river when lightning struck a nearby tree, according to media reports. Ryan Gamble died from the strike, which also injured 12 others, The Sun News in Myrtle Beach reported

“He was a very good father,” Gamble’s cousin told the newspaper. “He was a low-keyed personality that enjoyed raising his two boys.”

So why have fewer people been killed this year? Has there been a decrease in lightning? There’s no obvious reason, meteorologists say.

It could be that there’s more public awareness about the dangers of lightning, or the technology advances, such as with cellphone weather apps, mean fewer people are caught off guard, Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said. Or, it could just be luck. 

Just don’t let the drop in deaths make you drop your guard when outdoors, especially during the summer months. 

From 2006 through 2018, 396 people were struck and killed by lightning in the U.S., according to the National Lightning Safety Council. Almost two-thirds of the deaths occurred among people who had been enjoying outdoor leisure activities, and not just golf — a common myth. Hundreds of others were injured. 

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Lightning is one of the top storm-related causes of death, coming in behind tornadoes and hurricanes, the NWS says. Lightning strikes claimed 40 lives in 2016 and 48 in 2006, but have declined over a 10-year period, data showed. The average number of deaths a year since 2006 is 30. June, July and August are when lightning is most likely to kill someone.

This year, lightning deaths have been most common in the Southeast, with fatalities reported in Florida, Alabama and Kentucky. Lightning was also blamed for deaths in Texas and Pennsylvania, where two 18-year-olds died on June 13 while fishing. 

“Lightning can strike 5 miles, or even more sometimes, away from a thunderstorm,” Nitz said. “As a rule of thumb, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning — even if it’s not raining where you are.”

The Severe Weather Team 2 app can be downloaded online on wsbtv.com. Weather alerts are also available through the AJC news app, which can be downloaded at AJC.com.

STAYING SAFE DURING LIGHTNING 

1. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. 

2. When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.

3. Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

4. If you’re inside, stay off electrical equipment that puts you in direct contact with electricity and stay away from windows and doors. Avoid sinks, baths and faucets. 

5. If you’re caught outside with no safe shelter, get off elevated areas and never shelter under a tree. Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as barbed wire or power lines.

Source: National Weather Service

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