NOAA 2004-R278
Contact: David Miller

NOAA News Releases 2004
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Officials Participate in International Conference to Support National Lightning Awareness Week

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showcased lightning safety during the 14th Annual Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International conference held in Orlando, Fla., from June 23–26, 2004. During a keynote address to conference attendees, Jack Kelly, deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, emphasized increased awareness of the dangers of how lightning translates into saving lives and protection from serious injury. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Each year lightning kills an average of 73 people and inflicts debilitating injuries on hundreds more,” said Kelly. “Knowledge about lightning and lightning safety measures will save lives. This is an important message, especially in Florida which leads the nation in lightning deaths and injuries.”

According to NOAA’s National Weather Service lighting deaths and injuries occur most frequently in open fields, golf courses, ballparks and playgrounds. Lightning casualties occur year-round although the summer months are the most dangerous. Overall, 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the nation each year.

“All thunderstorms have the potential to produce lightning, so we need to pay attention to the warnings,” added Kelly.

NOAA initiated Lightning Awareness Week, a nationwide publicity campaign, in 2001 and has joined forces with lightning strike survivor Michael Utley and noted lightning injury research physician Dr. Mary Ann Cooper to educate the public on the dangers of lightning. NOAA is also partnering this year with the Professional Golfers’ Association and Little League Baseball to broadcast this life-saving information.

In May 2000, Michael Utley was struck by lightning on a Cape Cod, Mass. golf course. Utley's heart stopped several times but his friends performed life saving CPR in the rain and hail while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

Once on scene emergency medical technicians had to use defibrillators to restart his heart. Utley spent 38 days in a Boston hospital intensive care unit, two and a half months in a rehabilitation facility and the next several years recovering from his injuries.

“The bottom line is that if you hear thunder, you need to get inside immediately,” said Utley. “Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from a thunderstorm, which is about the distance that the sound of thunder can travel and be heard. All thunderstorms produce lightning, and each lightning strike is a potential killer.”

“Education is the single most important means to achieve lightning safety. Lightning awareness is a vital message for the coaches, umpires, parents and children who are involved with Little League programs and anyone who enjoys outdoor activities during thunderstorm prone periods,” said Dr. Cooper.

The NOAA National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The NOAA Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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