Lightning Safety

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I’m sure many of you are aware of the unfortunate event that occurred Saturday, September 3, 2000, when lighting struck and killed a young man on the west side of Cincinnati. But, since we have many readers of this list local, national, and even international, I’ll review the event briefly.

At approximately 6:00pm on Saturday, a line of thundershowers moved through the western side of the Cincinnati metro area. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this weather. The winds, and rain within could hardly be considered severe. There was no hail that I’ve heard of. Yes indeed, this seemed to be your average, “garden variety” thundershower.

Being Saturday evening of the Labor Day holiday weekend, many outdoor activities were in progress. On the west side of Cincinnati, in Green Township, a 16th birthday party was under way. The news reports mentioned that some of the attendees were playing horseshoes and other normal activities typical of such an event. Some time during the party, thunder was heard in the distance. A couple young men from a local restaurant were setting up a catered meal. Then, seemingly without warning, lightning struck a nearby tree and the two restaurant employees.

Someone called 9-1-1. In the meantime, someone else started CPR on a 21 year-old man found to be without a pulse. The other caterer, a 20 year-old, was dazed but conscious. Local paramedics arrived within minutes and began advanced life support. Both young men were transported to the hospital, where the 21 year-old was later pronounced dead. The other is recuperating.

As the Public Information Officer for WARN, I have the opportunity to speak at many spotter training courses with Meteorologists from the National Weather Service. I know how strongly the NWS emphasizes safety, lightning and otherwise. All of us at WARN also emphasize weather safety to spotters and everyone else who will listen. That’s kind of what I’m doing now.

When I’m not working with WARN and the NWS, I am a Lieutenant Firefighter/Paramedic with the Green Township Fire Department. Yes, the same community where this incident occurred. No, I wasn’t working that day. I have spoken to the crew who responded to the incident and know they did everything humanly possible to help the victims. Sometimes it’s out of our hands.

It’s very easy to get lulled into complacency. In fact, it happens to us too. There were actually two cells that passed my home that day. After the first (I didn’t really know there would be a second), I went across my back yard to check my rain gauge. There was thunder in the distance, but it sounded pretty far away. While returning to the house, when I got about 15 feet from the door, I received a little reminder. It was one of those where you see a flash and hear the thunder at the same time. It was one of those that make you duck your head. I like watching lightning and hearing thunder, and they normally do not frighten me very often. Still, this one was unexpected and much too close for comfort.

Here comes my pitch for safety. If you are outdoors and hear thunder, it is time to think about heading inside. That’s nature’s warning system. Nobody likes interrupting their carefully planned events, or the little routine things we do. Lightning can strike many miles from a thunderstorm. It also doesn’t matter if there is only “a little lightning”. Many times we are asked why Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are not issued when there is a lot of lighting, regardless of wind or hail. Well, this is exactly why. It doesn’t take “a lot” of lightning to be dangerous. The first stroke, and the last, and all in between are potential killers, whether there are 3 or 3000 in the storm. If warnings were issued for lightning, some people would only seek shelter when warnings were issued. That’s a dangerous practice. So, when lightning approaches, take shelter immediately until it is well past.

The young man who was killed in this event, 21 year old James Metz, was a recruit for the Delhi Township Fire Department and had just received his Emergency Medical Technician certification. He was looking forward to helping others. My condolences (and I’m sure everyone else’s) go out to the family and friends of Mr. Metz.