Of all the dangerous weather phenomena, lightning is perhaps the most dangerous in the summertime, when so many people are outdoors.
Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year. Hundreds more are severely injured. Although last year’s statistics revealed less than half that number at twenty, three of those were in the state of Tennessee.
Long-time — and now retired — Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe knows the dangers of lightning all too well. In August of 1989, he was struck by lightning twice in a matter of minutes while trying to move hay on his tractor.
“It was just like a bomb went off. When it hit me, I really didn’t know exactly what it was,” Ashe recalled. “It was like my tractor exploded. It threw me up on top of the tractor and knocked me out. When I came to, the tractor was still moving down the field. I just remember I was disoriented. So I reached up and I cut the tractor off somewhere about a hundred yards from where it originally happened. As I was getting off the tractor I had one hand on the back tire and one on the steering wheel.”
That’s when the second bolt of lightning struck him just moments later.
“A bolt of lightning hit the hay spear in front of the tractor. And of course, it catapulted me off the tractor. Actually one of my neighbors saw it happen, and when I had come to they put me in the back of a pick-up truck and called an ambulance,” Ashe recounted. “I guess God had something else he wanted me to do.”
There’s a saying that’s pretty well known now: “When the thunder roars, go indoors.” But what should you do — or not do — if you are caught outside like Sheriff Ashe was?
- Try to avoid open areas, and don’t be the tallest object.
- Stay away from isolated tall trees, towers or utility poles.
- Stay away from metal conductors such as wires, fences, lawn mowers, and tractors.
If you are doing something outdoors, the odds are you drove your car to get there, and that is one of the safest places you can be.
If you get inside your car and roll the windows up, close the doors, and don’t touch any metal, the lightning could actually strike the roof of the car and it will travel around you in the metal of the body of the car, and you’ll be safe inside.
“People just do not realize how careful, how cautious you have to be when you have these kinds of storms,” Ashe warned. “We could have one today. We could have one this week. You just need to be mindful of where you are.”