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Lightning safety: What you need to know

From 2006-2011, there were 210 lightning fatalities in the United States. Ninety-nine percent occurred outdoors and one percent was indoors. For more information go to lightningsafeety.noaa.gov (Courtesy photo/NOAA.gov)

From 2006-2011, there were 210 lightning fatalities in the United States. Ninety-nine percent occurred outdoors and one percent was indoors. For more information go to lightningsafeety.noaa.gov (Courtesy photo/NOAA.gov)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- There is no safe place outside when lightning is in the area. In the U.S., Central Florida sees more lightning than any other area and is considered to be lightning alley and the leading source of weather deaths in Florida, killing more than all other weather phenomena combined.

In an effort to stay safe during Central Florida's lightning season, May through September, individuals and their families should adhere to following.

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base:

Listen for lightning watches and warnings. Follow your local procedures when you hear alerts. If you are where you can't hear the watches and warnings, use the 'Off CCAFS/PAFB' procedures listed below. Plan ahead and use the local weather forecast from the 45th WS, at patrick.af.mil/weather.

 Phase-1 Lightning Watch: means lightning is expected within five or six nautical miles, depending on if a lightning warning area protects a single facility or several facilities, respectively. This phase is issued up to 30 minutes before lightning is expected and lightning that close is dangerous. The five or six nautical miles is about six or seven "normal" statute miles.

 Phase-2 Lightning Warning: is issued when lightning is imminent or occurring within five or six nautical miles, depending on if the warning area protects one or more facilities, respectively.

The 45th WS issues lightning watches and warnings for 10 lightning warning areas in the local area, including PAFB and four locations at CCAFS: Launch Complex-40/41, Launch Complex-37/ITL, Cape Central, and the Port.

The 45th WS implemented new lightning warning areas May 15 to optimize the balance between personnel safety, operational downtime, and resource protection. By streamlining the process, the 45th WS forecasters can spend more time analyzing the weather, rather than managing an overly complex process, which should improve the quality of the lightning watches and warnings.

Off CCAFS/PAFB:

Use the three slogans for safety:
1) No place outdoors is safe when thunderstorms are in the area
2) When thunder roars, go indoors
3) Half an hour since thunder roars, now it's safe to go outdoors

The following are four levels of lightning safety and provide a high degree of safety:

Level-1: Schedule outdoor activities to avoid the lightning hazard. Use the local forecasts from the National Weather Service at Melbourne (www.srh.noaa.gov/mlb). Know the local thunderstorm patterns. The National Weather Service Graphical Hazardous Weather Outlook is issued each morning and includes a map indicating where lightning will most likely occur during the next 24 hours.

Level-2: Know when and where to go for lightning safety. Watch the sky for signs of approaching or a developing thunderstorm. If you hear thunder, the storm is close enough to be a danger-go to a safe place quickly. One safe place is a large fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing: a typical house, school, office, or store, etc. Another safe place is a vehicle with a solid metal roof and solid metal sides: a typical car, truck or bus. When indoors, stay away from conducting paths to the outside: corded telephones (except for emergencies), electrical appliances, wiring, and plumbing.

Level-3: Risk reduction. If you must be outside with thunderstorms in the area, you are in danger. Only do this if there is no alternative. Avoid elevated places, wide-open areas like sports fields, beaches, and tall isolated objects. Do not go under trees to keep dry. Avoid swimming, boating and fishing. Small open structures, such as pavilions and rain shelters, do not provide lightning protection.

Level-4: First aid. All lightning deaths are from cardiac arrest or stopped breathing. Use CPR or rescue breathing, as needed and call 9-1-1. If an automated external defibrillator is available, use it on victims who are unconscious or unresponsive. AEDs work better than CPR.

More information is at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov. For lightning safety training, contact the 45th Weather Squadron, or william.roeder@us.af.mil, (321) 853-8410.