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Lightning Safety: A Year-Round Concern in SW Florida

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Author name: Lee Health

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Lightning is a fact of life here in Southwest Florida. But Lee Health and its community partners remind you not to get complacent.

With plenty of beachgoers, tourists, outdoor activities, jobs, and youth sports – our community has to be on guard and play close attention to encroaching storms and the possibility of lightning.

Hear thunder? Time to move

Most people are struck by lightning before it starts raining or after it stops raining. Don’t stay outside just because the rain hasn’t come down yet. When it roars, go indoors.

Find a safe, enclosed shelter such as a home, office, shopping center, or a hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled up.

Be aware

Check the weather forecast before participating in outdoor activities. If the forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your event or make sure adequate safe shelter is readily available.

Caught in the open?

  • Immediately get off elevated areas or open areas such as beaches.
  • Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears so that you are down low with minimal contact with the ground.
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
  • Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, etc.).

Working outdoors or taking part in youth sports?

  • Identify who makes the call to remove players from the field.
  • Designate a weather watcher to monitor the skies.
  • Identify a safe building to use if lightning begins.
  • DO NOT evacuate to open structures including picnic, park, sun, bus, and rain shelters as well as storage sheds, tents, dugouts, refreshment stands, screened porches, press boxes and open garages.
  • DON’T resume activities until 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning is seen and the last sound of thunder is heard.

Learn the 30-30 rule

  • 30 SECONDS: Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. If this time is less than 30 seconds, lightning is still a potential threat. Seek shelter.
  • 30 MINUTES: After the last lightning flash, wait 30 minutes before leaving shelter. Half of all lightning deaths occur after the storm passes. Stay in a safe area until you are sure the threat has passed.

Labor Day weekend may have signaled the unofficial end of summer, but Southwest Florida’s weather makes certain safety tips viable year-round.

Going Outdoors: Heat and Dehydration

So you are going to spend some time at the beach? Maybe a little hike or even a nice extended walk or jog?

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. The sun works fast and has no mercy. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Encourage guests and family members to drink lots of water at gatherings. Remember that UV rays bounce off sand, concrete, and water.
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen – for all members of the family especially infants and children and the elderly. Apply and reapply often. Use at least a 30 SPF to protect your skin.
  • Sensitive to sunburn? Wear a hat and try to stay in the shade.
  • Remember: If your urine is yellow or dark yellow, you are likely dehydrated and need to drink more water.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities.

Swimming

  • Never swim alone. Watch kids when they are in or around water, without being distracted. Keep young children within arm’s reach of an adult. Make sure older children swim with a partner.
  • If you plan to swim in the ocean, a lake or river, be aware that swimming in these environments is different than swimming in a pool. Be sure you have the skills for these environments.
  • Swim only at a beach with a lifeguard, within the designated swimming area. Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards and ask them about local conditions.
  • Make sure you swim sober and that you always swim with a buddy. Know your limitations and make sure you have enough energy to swim back to shore.
  • Protect your neck – don’t dive headfirst. Walk carefully into open waters. Watch out for and avoid aquatic life. Water plants and animals may be dangerous.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, try not to panic. Signal to those on shore that you need assistance. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, swim toward shore. If you can't swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are free of the rip current and then head toward shore.

Boating

  • Always have your children wear a life jacket approved by the U. S. Coast Guard while on boats, around open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. It is highly recommended when on docks as well.
  • Make sure the life jacket fits snugly. Have kids make a “touchdown” signal by raising both arms straight up; if the life jacket hits a child’s chin, it may be too big or the straps may be too loose.
  • Infants and young kids are at a higher risk for hypothermia, so if you are taking a baby on a boat, just take a few extra precautions to keep your baby warm. If the children seem cold or are shivering, wrap them tightly in a dry blanket or towel.
  • Explain some basic rules and have everyone follow them. Children need to understand and follow rules such as keeping their hands and feet inside the boat at all times and not running on a boat.

Grilling

  • Position the grill so that it’s in a well-ventilated area and away from trees, bushes, the house, and anything else that can catch fire.
  • Have a fire extinguisher ready to extinguish grilling lames if they get out of control.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • Wash your hands before and after you touch raw meat.
  • Dry your hands on paper towels instead of cloth towels, and discard immediately.
  • Refrigerate meat that’s waiting to hit the grill.
  • Never leave food that requires refrigeration (think potato salad, coleslaw, or chicken salad) out in the sun.
  • Set items that need chilled on top of a pan filled with ice, and serve from a shaded area.