Lake Ouachita Thunderstorms

Your on Lake Ouachita, Humidity and temperature are high, the hot air is radiating upward from land surfaces heated by the sun. Moisture from the lake is being absorbed by the warm air, which rises to begin the formation of thunderheads. This transition from a small cloud into a turbulent, electrified thunderstorm can occur in less than 30 minutes.

Staying off Lake Ouachita during stormy periods is the best prevention from dangers of being struck by lightning.

The lightning safety community reminds you that there is NO safe place to be outside in a thunderstorm.

If you absolutely can’t get to safety, tips below are designed to help you lesson the threat of being struck by lightning while outside.

Don’t kid yourself–you are NOT safe outside If you are about to be caught in a Thunderstorm make sure everyone aboard is wearing a life jacket. Secure all loose gear, hatches or ports. Determine your location and the best course back to shelter.

Once the Thunderstorm Hits…

Try to take the first (and heaviest) gusts of wind on the bow, not abeam.
Heading into the wind is the most seaworthy position for most small boats.

Approach waves at a 45 degree angle to keep the propeller underwater, to reduce pounding, and to provide a safer and more comfortable ride.

If there is lightning, unplug radios and all electrical equipment.
Stay low. Don’t make yourself the tallest target.

Keep away from metal objects that aren’t grounded to the boat’s protection system.

If caught out in the open and your hair stands on end, there is a tingling on your arms or back of your neck, or you hear buzzing – get down low in a crouching position and cover your head with your arms.

LIGHTNING STRIKES!

The best protection against lightning is avoidance.
Lightning is random, unpredictable and very dangerous.

Here are some tips to help you avoid Lightning while on the water!

Head into shore well ahead of the turbulence.
Lightning can lash out for miles in front of a storm, and it can strike after a storm seems to have passed.

Look for tall clouds that have an anvil shaped top, these clouds can be VERY large, reaching several miles high and several miles wide.

Squall lines preceding cold fronts also produce thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms generally move in an Easterly direction, if you see a storm to the South or Southeast of you, by and large you can rest easy.
If you see a storm to the West or Northwest of you, Move for cover.

Lightning Facts

How far away was the last lightning bolt?
Count the seconds between the flash and the bang, and divide by 5, and you have the answer in miles. Sound travels at about a mile in five seconds, so by timing the interval between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder is a pretty good indicator of how close you were to the strike point. If the flash-to-bang time is 30 seconds or less, the last strike was within 5 miles. And statistically in many storms, the following strike usually strikes about to 3 to 5 miles from the last – meaning you could be next ! Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Move at once to a sturdy building or vehicle.

If a lightning flash takes only a fraction of a second, how come thunder lasts so long?
While we see the flash virtually instantaneously, the beginning and end points might be 5 or more miles separated. Due to the slower speed of sound, it takes differing lengths of time for the shock wave to reach our ears. If the lightning channel was two miles long, and assuming it started directly overhead, it would take at least 10 seconds for the rumbling to stop.

How many people are killed and injured by lightning each year?
When people say the chances are the same as being struck by lightning to describe a low probability event, they had better go check their figures. Over 7000 Americans have been killed by lightning in a recent 34 year period. Your chances of being struck by lightning in the U.S. are about 1 in 250,000 and 400,000 in a given year. You can increase your odds, if you would like, by golfing, swimming, boating and just being outside during a thunderstorm. In the U.S. alone each year, between 75 and 150 people are reported killed by lightning with 5 to 30 times that being injured. And these statistics are thought to be underestimates of lightning casualties. It is possible that many lightning victims’ cause of death is listed as burns or cardiac problems.

What are the leading causes of death by lightning strikes?
(1) in open fields or ball fields.
(2) under trees.
(3) while boating and fishing.
(4) near tractors and heavy equipment.
(5) on golf courses.
(6) on telephones (but not cellular or cordless ones).

Does it need to be raining for lightning to strike?
NO!
Lightning Bolts can and often do strike as much as ten miles outside of the rain area of the storm. Recent research on lightning deaths finds that most fatalities occur in the period when the storm appears to be ending. A study of Florida lightning strike casualties found that the largest number occurred just as the storm was ending, not during its most intense part. For the ten or more minute period after the rain ends, and even after the sun comes out, lightning is still a threat. A bolt from the blue is more than just a figure of speech. Lightning bolts can on occasion jump 10 or more miles out from a cloud and appear to strike in a region with blue skies overhead.

What if you are caught outside in a lightning storm?
If you are caught outside in a lightning storm and can’t make the shelter of a car or building, then get away from isolated trees, tall objects and hilltops. Being deep inside a grove of trees is safer than being exposed in the open. Do not be the highest point around. Avoid direct contact with other persons (in a group, don’t hold hands or hug each other!), get into a ditch or shallow depression if possible, crouch down with feet together and with your hands on your knees. Remove metal objects such as belts and golf clubs. And then promise to be more alert to weather signs and not get yourself in such a fix again!

What if you hair stands on end?
If you are outside when a thunderstorm is nearby and your hair starts to stand on end, a fishing line literally hangs in the air after casting, or a plastic rain coat suddenly begins lifting into the air, lightning may be about to strike. These phenomena are caused by an extremely high electric field in the atmosphere.
Seek shelter immediately. If caught in the open, crouch down as close to the ground as possible
without your hands touching the ground

What should I do if I am on a boat on the open water during a thunderstorm?

Do not become a lightning target. Preferably stay off, and definitely get off, the water whenever weather conditions are threatening. But thunderstorms can be unpredictable. Even with the best weather reports, you can still be caught in open waters. A boat is one of the worst possible places to be during a thunderstorm.* Check the weather. The National Weather Service (NWS) provides a continuously updated weather forecast. Never go boating without listening to this service. Their short-term forecasts are quite accurate, but small localized storms might not be reported. Therefore, it is important that boaters learn to read the weather.

Being in a boat during a storm is a lot like sitting at the base of a lightning rod. The only good protection for people boating in a thunderstorm is to get off the water. There is no such thing as a “safe” boat during a thunderstorm. Some boats may be safer than others, but no boat is entirely safe. Thunder can usually be heard for about five miles or so, even on open water, and lightning can strike eight miles from the leading edge of a cloud, do not rely on hearing thunder to gauge when it’s necessary to return to shore

If you should find yourself in a boat during the storm.

  • Stay in the center of the cabin if so designed. If no cabin, stay low in the boat. Don’t be a stand-up lightning rod!
  • Keep arms and legs in the boat. Do not dangle them over the side.
  • Stop all fishing, water skiing, scuba diving, swimming, or other water activities when there is lightning, or even when weather conditions look threatening. The first lightning can be a mile or more in front of an approaching thunderstorm.
  • Disconnect and do not use or touch major electronic equipment including the radio, throughout the duration of the storm.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, preferably with a portable radio.
  • Lower, remove, or tie down the radio antenna and other protruding devices if they are not part of the lightning protection system.
  • To the degree possible, avoid making contact with two components connected to the system at the same time.
  • For example, the gear levers and the spotlight may both be connected to the system. Should you have a hand on both when lightning strikes, the path of the electric current could be through your heart– a very deadly path!
  • At least one person on board should be competent in CPR and first aid. Many people struck by lightning can be saved with prompt first aid.

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