North Carolina ranks among highest in lightning casualties

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Summer is known for severe weather in the Carolinas, but did you know that North Carolina has one of the highest numbers of lightning deaths in the country?

According to the National Weather Service, North Carolina has the second highest numbers of lightning-related casualties, including injuries and deaths, from 1959 to 2007.

In that 48-year time period, the Tar Heel state had 818 causalities from lightning, including 186 recorded deaths.

The state has been hit by many hurricanes and tropical storms, including Hurricanes Fran, Gloria and Helene. Severe weather, including lightning strikes, can hit a wide area well before a tropical system makes landfall.

Florida had the highest number of casualties with a total of 2,117 - more than two and a half times North Carolina's number. Nearly 450 of those causalities were deaths.

Texas, who ranked at number six on the total list, had the second highest number of deaths.

The National Weather Service released the information as pare of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, which is observed from June 23 to June 29.

NOAA's National Weather Service has discovered that 64-percent of lightning deaths since 2006 occurred while people were participating in leisure activities, such as fishing, camping, boating, soccer and golf.

"When people think of lightning deaths, they usually think of golf," said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service.

"While every outdoor activity is dangerous when a thunderstorm is in the area, outdoor activities other than golf lead to more lightning deaths. NOAA has made a concerted effort to raise lightning awareness in the golf community since we began the campaign in 2001, and we believe our outreach has made a huge difference since lightning-related deaths on golf courses have decreased by 75-percent."

Another 77 people were struck by lightning while enjoying the beach, swimming, walking and running, riding recreational vehicles, having a picnic or relaxing in their yard, according to NWS statistics.

"People often wait far too long to head to safety when a storm is approaching, and that puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation," Jensenius said.

Between 2006 and 2012, 82 percent of people killed by lightning were male.

The best way for people to protect themselves against lightning injury or death is to monitor the weather and postpone or cancel outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if people can hear thunder, they are in danger of being struck by lightning. The only safe places to be during a thunderstorm are in a building with four walls and a roof or in a car.

A hut, cabana, tent, or other rain shelter will not protect a person from being struck by lightning.

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