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Lightning deaths reached an all-time low in the United States in 2017 in recorded history, according to a year-end report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
A total of 16 people were killed, which is seven fewer than the previous record low of 23 set in 2003 and well below the 2016 total of 39.
“While we don’t like to see any lightning deaths, the continuing downward trend in yearly fatalities is encouraging,” said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist for NOAA.
When lightning fatalities first started being recorded in the 1940s, the annual number of deaths reached as high as 432 in 1943. When the National Weather Service (NWS) instituted its Lightning Safety Campaign in 2001, about 55 lightning deaths occurred each year based on the previous 10-year average.
That death toll has now been cut in half as the current 10-year average is 27 deaths per year, Jensenius said.
Jensenius has cited improved educational outreach and public awareness as key factors that have made the public more aware about the dangers of lightning and knowing when to find shelter.
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“In addition, better medical treatment, including the use of Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs), has helped save the lives of lightning strike victims," he said.
Half of those killed by lightning in 2017 were enjoying outdoor activities, such as biking, golfing, horseback riding, fishing and camping.
A NOAA analysis of lightning fatality data from 2006 to 2016 found that about two-thirds of victims were enjoying leisure activities before being struck.
When spending time outdoors, especially during the peak of lightning season during June through August, experts recommend taking several safety precautions. These include following the saying “when thunder roars, go indoors,” planning ahead to find a safe space and avoid finding shelter under a tree or near a body of water.
Three of the deaths in 2017 occurred when the victim was standing under a tree.
It is also recommended to wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before returning outside because charges can linger in the atmosphere.
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