GAINESVILLE -- With summer thunderstorms once again in full swing, Universityof Florida researchers are reminding those playing or working outdoors to bewary of the deadly lightning that comes with them.
Staying away from wide-open spaces is the best lighting defense, researcherssay, but ducking under a large tree or in a small shelter not protected fromlightning makes you part of the lightning rod.
"Lightning is attracted to the highest object in an area, and a tree thatextends beyond the surrounding landscape can become the target of a strike,"said Martin Uman, director of UF's Lightning Research Center. "Isolated golfcourse and picnic shelters that are not protected from lightning also arerisky."
Among those who make their living outdoors, farm and ranch workers areespecially at risk, said Carol Lehtola, agricultural safety specialist forUF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"We all know that golfing and other sports expose you to lightning, but mostpeople don't realize that farm and ranch workers are at high risk becausethey do much of their work outdoors far away from shelter," Lehtola said.
In May, for instance, seven farm workers in Myakka City were injured whenlightning struck the metal flatbed trailer they had crawled under forshelter from a storm.
"Too often, workers and their supervisors stay on the job until it startsraining and get back to work as soon as they can after a storm passes," shesaid. "They don't realize that lightning can strike them when thunderstormsare in the area but the sky above them is clear."
All crews of farm workers should include at least one person who hastraining in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, Lehtola said, and supervisors ofagricultural workers should carry a weather radio so they can be alerted tostorms in plenty of time.
Lightning danger begins with the first rumble of thunder and continues until30 minutes after the last thunder clap or lightning bolt, Lehtola said.
To judge how far away lightning is, she said, measure the time betweenseeing the bolt or flash and hearing the thunder that follows.
"You can gauge the number of seconds between the thunder and lightning onyour watch or by counting by 1,000s," she said. "Every five seconds betweenwhen you see lightning and you hear thunder means the lightning is a mile away."
Uman offered more tips on avoiding being hit by lightning: * Avoid standing above the surrounding landscape in an open field or on a beach.
* Stay away from wire fences, rails and other metallic paths along theground that could carry lightning currents to you.
* If you're in a small boat or swimming, come ashore, since the electricalcurrent from a nearby strike can flow through the water to you.
* Take shelter in a house or building with a floor, electrical wiring andplumbing or in a car with the windows rolled up. Golf carts are unsafe.
* In open spaces, lie down or crouch in a ravine or valley. If no ravine orvalley is nearby, get in any depression in the ground.
* In a wooded area, seek shelter in a thick growth of small trees. No onetree is more likely to be hit than any other.
If a person is struck by lightning, Lehtola said, it's important not toassume they are dead simply because their heart has stopped beating or theyhave stopped breathing.
"More than 80 percent of lightning victims survive, but it's important toimprove a victim's chances by administering CPR," she said. "It's tragicthat most people don't know what to do."
More information on lightning safety is available athttp://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls.html, the Web site of the NationalLightning Safety Institute, and more information on agricultural safety isavailable at http://agen.ufl.edu/~clehtola/agsaferef.htm, the Web site ofthe Florida Agsafe Network.
Materials provided by University Of Florida's Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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