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Tips on how to protect yourself and your home from lightning
Do you know what weather phenomenon kills more Americans than hurricanes and tornadoes? It’s lightning.
Lightning kills an average of 73 people every year and injures 300, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service. Beyond the human casualties, lightning strikes cause plenty of property damage. In 2006 there were 256,000 lightning-related home insurance claims, causing about $882 million in insured losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). That's an average lightning claim of $3,446.
|Consumer electronics are making lightning claims more expensive.|
Although the number of lightning-related insurance claims has declined, the total cost for these claims is up 20 percent from 2004 to 2006, according to III. It points to consumer electronics as the driving reason: Wide-screen TVs, multiple computers and other devices are costly to replace after lightning fries them.
Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000, according to NOAA, and one ground strike can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity.
Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors during the summer months, mostly in the afternoon and early evening. Lightning seeks the path of least resistance. If you are taller than your surroundings, or are standing next to a tall object (such as a tree), you are a prime target for a lightning strike.
Personal lightning safety tips
Following basic safety guidelines can greatly reduce your chances of injury or death from lightning. The NOAA says to watch for the warning signs of high winds, rain and darkening clouds. While many lightning deaths happen at the beginning of an approaching storm, more than 50 percent of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed, says NOAA. That's why III offers the "30/30 Rule" for personal safety: If it takes less than 30 seconds after you see lightning to hear the thunder, you should get indoors and stay there for 30 minutes.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) has other recommendations to stay safe when lightning strikes:
- Stand clear from windows, doors, and electrical appliances.
- Don't attempt to unplug televisions, stereos or computers during the storm — get them unplugged before the storm arrives.
- Avoid contact with piping, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Don't use the telephone, except for emergencies.
- Never use a tree for shelter.
- Go to an area of lower elevation.
- Keep away from metal objects, including bikes, golf carts, fencing and machinery.
- Immediately move away from solitary trees, open areas, hilltops, pools, lakes and other wet areas.
- Look for the nearest shelter. A car, with the windows rolled up, is an excellent shelter. If lightning strikes the car, it will travel along the outside surface and into the ground.
- If you feel a tingling sensation, your hair stands on end or you smell sulfur, lightning might be about to strike. Immediately crouch down and cover your ears. Don't lie down or place your hands on the ground because a lightning strike might momentarily electrify the ground beneath you.
Home lightning safety tips
Property and casualty insurers take lightning very seriously. It has the power to tear through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete, start fires and destroy valuable electronic components.
|Lightning-related losses are covered by your standard home insurance policy.|
Lightning-related losses are covered by your standard home insurance policy. If you live in a lightning-prone region, you may be entitled to a home insurance discount if you install a lightning-protection system. Lightning damage to your car is covered under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance.
Lightning-protection systems cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500 to protect a private home, and up to $70,000 to protect a high-rise building, according to the LPI. They need to be installed by specially trained professionals. Lightning-protection systems provide a designated path for the lightning current to travel. It neither attracts nor repels a lightning strike, but simply intercepts it and guides it harmlessly to the ground.
According to the LPI, a certified lightning-protection system is made up of several components:
- Air terminals, also known as lightning rods: Slender rods installed on the roof at regular intervals.
- Conductors: Aluminum or copper cables that interconnect the air terminals and the other system components.
- Ground terminations: Metal rods driven into the earth to guide the lightning current to the ground.
- Surge arrestors and suppressors: Devices installed in conjunction with a lightning-protection system to protect electrical wiring and electronic equipment.
Whether you need a professionally designed and installed lightning protection system certainly depends on many factors, including where you live, says LPI. For example, a homeowner in a lower-risk region like Alaska may need one less than a homeowner in Florida.