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Farm and home safety tips for stormy weather

Sources:  Matt Dixon, UK Agricultural Meteorologist; National Weather Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ag Safety Database

It’s that time of year when we get more thunderstorms. Weather patterns are more active, and storms thrive with the moisture and rapidly rising warm air during the transition to warmer seasons.

Stormy conditions also increase the potential for lightning to strike people outdoors and, possibly, while they’re inside a building. Although thunderstorms are more common during the spring and summer, they can take place all year.

All thunderstorms produce lightning. Sometimes called “nature’s fireworks,” lightning is produced by the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between negatively and positively charged areas. An average lightning charge can provide enough energy to keep a 100-watt light bulb burning for more than three months.

Other dangers associated with thunderstorms are heavy rains that lead to flash floods, strong winds, hail and tornadoes. 

Thunder is the result of a shock wave caused by rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning channel.

If you want to estimate the miles between yourself and a lightning flash, simply count seconds between lightning and thunder and divide this time by five. Sound travels about a mile every five seconds. 

The most important thunderstorm safety precaution is simply to be aware of an approaching thunderstorm and move to a safe shelter before the storm arrives in your area. If you see lightning, hear thunder, observe dark clouds, or your hair stands on end, immediately go inside a sturdy, completely enclosed building, home or a hard-top vehicle with closed windows. Avoid picnic shelters, sports dugouts, covered patios, carports and open garages. Small wooden, vinyl or metal sheds provide little to no protection.

Since metal conducts lightning, don’t touch metal inside or outdoors; drop metal backpacks; release golf clubs, tennis rackets, fishing gear and tools, and get off bicycles and motorcycles.

Lightning can strike water and travel a long distance in it. So standing in water, even in rubber boots, isn’t safe during a thunderstorm. It’s also unsafe to go swimming, wading, snorkeling and scuba diving if lightning is present. If you’re in a small boat during a storm, crouch in the middle and stay away from metal items and surfaces.

Crouch down in an open, exposed area and stay away from tall objects, such as trees.  Remember to stay away from elevated items that can conduct lightning.

If you’re indoors, remember lightning can enter buildings as a direct strike, through pipes and wires extending outside, or through the ground. Telephone use is a leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in America.

Windows and doors provide a direct path for lightning to enter a building. During a thunderstorm, stay away from laundry appliances as they are connected to plumbing and electrical systems. Dryer vents offer a direct electrical pathway outdoors.

On the farm, ungrounded wire fences can put livestock at risk when lightning strikes. Surprisingly, lightning can travel almost two miles along an ungrounded fence. According to the National Ag Safety Database, you can ground wooden or steel posts that are set in concrete by driving ½-inch or ¾ inch steel rods or pipes next to fence posts at least 5 feet into the ground, at intervals of no more than 150 feet along the fence. You should securely fasten the grounding rods so that all the fence wires come into contact with them. You can also substitute galvanized steel fence posts for wooden posts at intervals of no more than 150 feet. You should not, however, ground electric fences in this manner, because they have a direct path to the ground in their circuitry. More tips for lightning protection on the farm are available on the National Ag Safety Database website.

Also remember pet safety. Lightning can easily strike animals chained to a tree or wire runner. Doghouses generally aren’t protected against lightning strikes.

For more information, contact your McCreary County Cooperative Extension Service.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.

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