SPRINGFIELD – “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” is a catchy slogan used by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and the National Weather Service (NWS) to remind people to take cover when a thunderstorm approaches. But for one lightning-strike survivor, the phrase is important advice that everyone should heed.
During Lightning Safety Awareness Week June 19-25, Jim Ciulla of Lexington is working with IEMA and the NWS to spread the word about the life-changing effects of being struck by lightning.
On July 6, 2010, Ciulla was working as a flagger for a road construction crew on Route 89 in Woodford County when he was struck by lightning. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Peoria then airlifted to the burn center in Springfield, where he was treated for first- and second-degree burns.
Ciulla says he is lucky to have survived the lightning strike, but the event has left lasting physical problems and severe pain that make it impossible for him to return to work or enjoy many of the activities he did prior to his injury. While he has made some progress nearly a year after the lightning strike, his feet are completely numb, it’s difficult for him to do any physical activity for an extended period of time and scars from his burns are a constant reminder of that life-altering day in July 2010.
“Being struck by lightning has completely changed my life,” said Ciulla. “I hope by telling my story, others will get to safety when thunderstorms are near. No sporting event, no outdoor job, nothing is worth the risk of getting struck by lightning.”
According to the National Weather Service, each year about 55 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured by lightning strikes in the U.S. On average, two-thirds of those fatalities and injuries occur outdoors at recreation events and near trees.
With prompt medical treatment, most lightning strike victims can survive. However, the long-term effects can include memory loss, personality changes, difficulty performing more than one task at a time, fatigue, irreparable nerve damage, chronic pain and headaches, difficulty sleeping and dizziness.
“In a split-second, your life could be changed forever by lightning,” said IEMA Director Jonathon Monken. “Whether at work or play, you should always be aware of changing weather conditions and be prepared to take cover as soon as you hear the first rumble of thunder.”
As the “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” slogan suggests, people should move to shelter as soon as thunder is heard, even if the thunderstorm isn’t directly overhead. Lightning can strike from as far away as 10 miles. The best shelter from lightning is inside a substantial building with the windows and doors closed. If no substantial shelter is available, seek refuge in a hard topped vehicle with the windows closed. Once inside, stay there for 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before resuming outdoor activities.
“If you are close enough to the storm to hear the thunder, you are close enough to be struck by the next bolt of lightning,” said Heather Stanley, meteorologist with the NWS in Lincoln. “Being aware of the forecast, whether by listening to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or another media outlet, is the first step in keeping yourself and your family safe from the dangers of lightning. However, just being aware of the forecast is not where personal responsibility ends…if thunderstorms are threatening, act on it. Don’t wait for the rain."
People who work outdoors in open spaces, on or near tall objects, with explosives or with metal have a high risk of being struck by lightning. Farmers, utility workers, construction workers, heavy equipment operators and plumbers are among the occupations with the most risk for being struck by lightning. Safety tips for these workers include:
• Pay attention to the daily forecast and stay alert for early signs of thunderstorms.
• When the forecast calls for severe weather, don’t start anything that can’t be stopped quickly.
• Know your employer’s safety guidelines, which should include a lightning warning policy that ensures warnings can be issued to workers in time for everyone to get to a safe location and that workers have access to a safe location.
• If severe weather is approaching, avoid anything tall or high, such as roofs, ladders, utility poles or trees; large equipment, such as bulldozers, cranes, backhoes and tractors, materials or surfaces that conduct electricity, like metal tools or equipment, utility lines, water, water pipes and plumbing; and leave areas where explosives or munitions are located.
IEMA and the NWS developed a Lightning Safety Awareness Guide that contains additional information about how to stay safe during thunderstorms. The guide, as well as information about disaster preparedness, is available on the Ready Illinois website at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.