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How to stay safe when lightning is near

By Sarah Dillingham, CNN Meteorologist
updated 11:31 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • National Weather Service: "When thunder roars, go indoors!"
  • Even if you don't see any rain yet, lightning can occur in a several-mile radius of a storm
  • 20 people have been killed in lightning-related incidents so far this year

(CNN) -- The number of lightning-related injuries and fatalities has been rising in recent weeks as stormy weather sweeps across the United States.

Ten spectators were struck by lightning Sunday in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, at the NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway, leaving one man dead, a track official said. Another man died in Florida Monday after being hit by lightning as he sought shelter from an oncoming storm, local media reported.

According to the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, an average of 54 people are killed by lightning in the United States each year. The peak month is July, with an average of 16 deaths, and June and August see about 12 deaths each.

So far this year, 20 lightning-related deaths have been recorded, including the latest two fatalities -- a figure that's below average for this time of year. Texas has had the most lightning-related deaths so far in 2012, with three people killed across the state.

Data shows that 85% of lightning strike victims yearly are men. At least 60% of those killed are between the ages of 40 and 69, and the day of the week when most people are killed by lightning is Saturday.

Lightning Safety Tips

If you are making outdoor plans, or if you're caught in severe weather while outside, you should have a plan to protect yourself and your family. Here are some lightning safety tips:

-- If you can hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck. Seek a sturdy shelter immediately.

-- If you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm in an open area, do not allow yourself to be the tallest object.

-- Avoid tall trees, towers, utility poles, water, and any metal objects.

-- Stay away from windows and don't use corded phones if inside during a thunderstorm.

If you're attending an organized outdoor event, you should still plan ahead for inclement weather. Here are some steps you and your family should take to prepare:

-- Check the weather before heading out.

-- Once you arrive at the event, familiarize yourself with the area and check with event organizers or look for signs that may instruct you where to seek shelter during bad weather.

-- Designate a group meeting place for you and your family in case of an emergency.

-- Use smartphone apps or a weather radio to monitor developments of severe weather, and know what county you're in in case a warning is issued.

If bad weather is heading your way, you should seek shelter as soon as possible. Although the heavy rains, wind, or hail associated with a severe or non-severe thunderstorm may not have reached you yet, lightning can occur within a several-mile radius of a storm.

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