Late spring, one of the most enjoyable seasons in North Georgia, is a time for playing outside, having a picnic or simply wandering through the landscape.
It’s also a time when thunderstorms build up quickly. On average, 55 people die from lightning strikes annually in the U.S. Of those, 3 to 10 are children.
This sends a clear warning to parents to keep an eye on the sky when the kids are outside, even when they are close to the house and in a fenced yard.
It isn’t always possible to hear the first rumblings of an approaching thunderstorm from inside the home. Cumulonimbus clouds, the prime producers of lightning, can develop on a side of the house that isn’t visible through the windows where one watches the kids.
It’s a good idea to step outside regularly and check the weather. At the first sounds of thunder heard in the distance, children should be taken inside. A roofed patio, garage or similar space that’s open to the environment should be considered “outside” and does not present a safe environment in a storm.
The appearance of the sky itself also presents clues as to what’s happening. If you can see knobs of cloudiness swelling and moving upward, lightning is likely to occur once the storm cell reaches maturity.
The safest place in a lightning storm is always a solid house with electricity and plumbing, although one should stay away from those two installations.
If you have just called the children out of the pool and into the house because lightning is threatening, now is not a good time for them to take a shower. Indoor plumbing can get hit by a lightning surge, and the damage can be costly to repair, but if no one gets hurt, it’s a forgettable annoyance.
Cobb County and metro Atlanta residents remember the tragedies that occurred in July 2010. Chaquille, 16, and Theresa, 14, were killed by lightning when it struck a nearby tree.
Just days earlier, a 14-year old was killed in Henry County while standing under a tree. These terrible events underscore the importance of educating children about the hazards of lightning.
Parents should make it a habit to supervise their kids’ outdoor activities closely with regard to the weather, and preferably stay tuned to a weather forecast, to avoid the heartbreak that the families in Cobb and Henry counties suffered.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.