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Lightning is deadly serious

Lightning killed two young farm workers in Kentucky last week and injured three more. They were just hanging tobacco in a curing barn as tobacco harvest began across the state.

The men were 25 and 29, way too young to pass. Victims of a terrible accident. They were doing good, hard work with their hands, but at the time and place where nature showed its terrible side.

We’ve had especially hard and numerous thunderstorms this year throughout the South. In south Georgia where I live, we’ve had at least one a day for the last two weeks it seems. And I mean lightning to make a tough guy cringe for cover.

Lightning strikes and near-misses are common stories among farmers and farm workers. I even have a few. I remember one strike to a watermelon shed in Cordele, Ga., that knocked me down as I stood near it in ankle-deep water loading melons from a pickup truck to a semi-trailer. That’s as close as I ever want to come again.

Lightning killed about 240 people between 2006 and 2012 in the United States. This averages out to a little more than 50 fatalities annually to lightning, but hundreds more each year are injured by it. I got these numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Service.

Men are much more likely to get struck by lightning, accounting for more than three-quarters of the fatalities and strikes. Fishing, boating and beach activities account for near 90 percent of all these fatalities. Obviously, most strikes that kill or hurt take place in the summer months when people are much more active outside. And for the South in the summer, storms are typically much worse with afternoon thunderstorms common and fast developing and moving.

There have been 16 lightning-related fatalities so far this year in the United States. Three of those deaths were farm-related activities in the South, the two in Kentucky and one in south Georgia.

Alabama, Georgia and Florida are three of the top 10 states each year where lightning takes lives. Florida leads the pack for the beach-related strikes there.

NOAA says to go inside at first sound of thunder and stay there until 30 minutes after the last rumble. I know. That’s hard to do when things need to get done and done now on a farm or in life. I’d be a hypocrite if I said I abided by this thunder rule, but I’m thinking about it today. Storms in life come and go. We don’t realize how lucky we are when they pass without hurting us or someone we love.

The NOAA map showing lightening fatalities by locations so far in 2013 can be found here.

NOAA's lightening safety site has some good tips here.

To read more about the incident that took to young lives in Kentucky, click here.

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