The recent spate of thunderstorms has given us spectacular, rumbling lightshows complete with billowing clouds, pounding showers of rain and strangely colored skies. They’re magnificent to watch, but these storms can also be very dangerous. We were unfortunately reminded of that fact in late June, when the severe thunderstorm that hit York and Cumberland counties caused injuries and property damage.

According to news reports, a young woman was watching the storm from beneath a pine tree at the edge of Sebago Lake June 23 at the Point Sebago Resort in Casco. The tree was struck by lightning, sending her and two other spectators airborne, and she was knocked unconscious when she landed on rocks and a concrete barrier.

That same night, a teenage boy was struck by lightning while inside his home after the bolt traveled across the room.

The lightning also set homes on fire in Gorham and Falmouth.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, lightning kills an average of 55-60 people a year in the U.S., but 90 percent of those who are struck survive, often with permanent neurological disabilities. Most of those who die from lightning strikes ”“ 80 percent ”“ are men who are fishing, boating, golfing, biking or working outdoors.

These are very serious consequences, but most people think of thunderstorms as nothing more than an enjoyable natural light show and pay little heed to the dangers that can arise when we don’t give nature her due respect. Men in particular might think they’re toughing it out during a rainstorm by continuing to enjoy an outdoor activity, but when that rainstorm becomes a thunderstorm, staying out is irresponsible and simply unwise.

To help spread the word about staying safe during thunderstorms, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is promoting its “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” message, and we’d like to advocate for thunderstorm safety by sharing their message.

FEMA suggests the 30/30 rule: If you see lightning and cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.

If that’s the case, we need to take precautions to protect ourselves from lightning strikes ”“ some of which you may not have heard before. FEMA advises that people take shelter in a building that has electricity or plumbing, or a metal-topped vehicle with the windows up.

While indoors, stay off corded phones, computers and other direct links to electricity, stay away from windows and indoor plumbing, and do not come in contact with any concrete floors or walls.

It’s almost unbelievable that lightning actually struck a Lebanon boy in his own home on June 23, but it happened. It might seem like fun to watch the storm from your porch or picture window, but the Lebanon incident is clear evidence that by doing so, you’re putting yourself at risk for a lightning strike if you’re not following the 30/30 rule.

For those who are outdoors, most of us have heard that you should never take shelter under a tree. What we may not know are the alternatives: To seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees or find a low place such as a ravine or valley if you’re in an open area. Anyone on or near a water body should get to shelter, and one should never lie on the ground.

And lightning isn’t the only threat. The heavy downpours that accompany thunderstorms can cause flash flooding, so those who are driving should pull over and if they come across flooded areas and should not attempt to cross.

The recent injuries so close to home remind us all that thunder and lightning storms are serious business, and if we take care to stay indoors and away from windows when lightning is striking close-by, we’ll all be able to stay safer.


Today’s editorial was written by Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Kristen by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].