By Maureen Deutermann, MSN, R.N., Director of Community Education
When Midwest thunderstorms raged, my mother would declare: "The angels are bowling." Childish wisdom prevailed. Recognizing her poorly disguised terror, I imagined it was only a matter of time before a telltale lightning bolt incinerated our house. Years later during similar Virginia storms, the howling of my two Irish Setters pretty much told me the same thing. Ditto the frantic shaking and quaking of my three current pups…ever have a 70-pound German Shepherd-mix wake you from a sound sleep by leaping on your head? Yep, no bowling tales for these crafty canines…they know when we’re doomed.
I still have a healthy respect (ok, fear) of thunderstorms, with good reason. While thunderstorms take up less space and time than hurricanes, these dainty dangers are plentiful. Some 16 million thunderstorms occur annually worldwide; 100,000 occur in the United States. In Virginia, we experience 35-45 thunderstorm days per year, mainly during summer afternoons and evenings.
All thunderstorms are dangerous. It’s important to know the dangers: 140 fatalities per year are attributed to flash floods, the greatest thunderstorm killer; most flash flood fatalities occur at night or from being trapped in cars; lightning, a by-product of all thunderstorms, averages 93 deaths and 300 injuries per year, and causes millions in property damage annually; straight line winds are responsible for most thunderstorm damage, and such winds can exceed 100 mph; hail and tornadoes can accompany thunderstorms, causing death, property and crop damage.
Before a storm: Listen for severe weather warnings, issued by county or parish; check the weather forecast before leaving for an outdoor event, especially if you will be in a situation where shelter is hard to find quickly; watch for these signs: darkening skies, increased wind, flashes of lightning, thunder, radio static; and have access to an AM/FM radio.
When a storm is approaching: If you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Seek shelter immediately; move to a sturdy building or car. Avoid small shelters, lone trees, or convertibles; leave boats and water; avoid using telephones and electrical appliances, anything that could conduct electricity; avoid taking a bath or shower; turn off air conditioners as power surges from lightning can overload compressors; get to higher ground if flash flooding is a danger. Once flooding occurs, abandon cars and move to higher ground.
Being safe means staying alert and knowing your "enemy", be it a thunderstorm or other hazardous weather conditions. One last piece of advice: don’t tell your kids (or dogs!) the angels are bowling. They’ll know you’re lying.