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What to do during a thunderstorm

| April 11, 2022 1:07 AM

Last week, I talked about thunderstorm activity across the Inland Northwest and our prediction that we are expecting the number of thunderstorms in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions to be a little above-normal. Several years ago, I published a more detailed feature about thunderstorms and since we’ve already seen three of them with more expected in the coming months, I wanted to update that column.

In 2020, I discovered an article from Reader’s Digest about thunderstorms which stated that lightning will strike more than eight million times per day across the world, which is an amazing 93 times per second. In the U.S., there are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms that form each year, and, according to NOAA, about 10% of them will often reach severe levels, for the most part, in the southern portions of the country.

At this time of year, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the local weather, especially if there are thunderstorms forming in the area. During these conditions, the National Weather Service can issue a “severe thunderstorm watch” or a “severe thunderstorm warning.” A watch means that conditions are favorable for the formation of severe thunderstorm activity. However, a warning means that severe weather is in progress when storm spotters or Doppler radar is reporting large hail, high winds and heavy rainfall.

With thunderstorms, comes lightning, which is still one of the most mysterious meteorological phenomena. A single bolt of lightning can be as high as 40,000 to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hotter than the surface of the sun. If someone is hit directly from a both of lightning, it can literally cause the blood to boil. Most deaths occur due to primary cardiac arrest within the first hour of injury. Many people who have survived a lightning strike have received some form of permanent disability.

Strong thunderstorms have strong updrafts of warm air and can exceed 100 miles per hour. When the rising air becomes cooler than the air surrounding it, the rising air will spread out creating an anvil-type cloud. On the other side of the cloud are the downdrafts of heavy rain and hail, which can literally knock airplanes out of the sky. Fortunately, advanced radar systems have helped pilots to avoid these areas. If there is rotation in the cloud, tornadoes can form, especially in areas east of the Rockies. However, every state in the country, including Alaska, has reported a tornado.

It’s not a good idea to venture out during a thunderstorm. The odds of being struck by lightning is any one year is 1 in 700,000. However, the odds of being struck in your lifetime go up to 1 in 3,000. If one happens to be outdoors during severe weather, and their hair starts standing straight up, that means conditions are setting up fast to be hit by lightning. The best thing to do is to hit the ground and even roll to break the bond between the positive and negative charge.

During a thunderstorm, or shortly after, it’s never a good idea to drive through a flooded area of the road. It only takes 6 inches of standing water to cause a car engine to stall. A foot of water can literally sweep a car off the road.

If you’re indoors during a thunderstorm, it’s best to avoid using land-line phones, computers, cell phones and other electronics. When I lived in Vermont many years ago, I got a few shocks in my ear when I was on the phone and lightning was close by. Electrical wires are a good conductor of lightning and I’ve also had many electronic devices destroyed by severe thunderstorms.

It’s also not a good idea to shower, wash your hands or do anything that involves using water. Many of the pipes that transport water is metal and present a hazard. And, water is also a conductor of electricity, so avoid being near on the water on days with expected strong thunderstorm activity.

In terms of our local weather, last Thursday, April 7, was our first day of measurable snowfall since February 27. Although, it was a puny 0.2 inches, it was enough to whiten the ground in many areas. On Feb. 27, we did receive 0.9 inches, and as I mentioned, the period from Jan. 8, until now was the most snowless in recorded history.

We’re also seeing wide temperature extremes as highs were in the mid-60s last week. Worley reported a high of 70 degrees last Thursday. Temperatures are much cooler this week and there’s still the chance we could see some additional snowflakes as a series of storms move in from the north. However, snowfall amounts in the lower elevations are expected to be very light.

We do see another brief period of warmer weather early next week with highs climbing into the 60s in the Coeur d’Alene area. The overall spring season should have above-normal precipitation with drier-than-average weather likely in the summer.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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