As we spend more time outdoors during the summer months, the federal government and the insurance industry are reminding us to be cautious during thunderstorms. After all, lightning kills more people each year - about 73 - than tornadoes and hurricanes. Thousands more are injured.
Last week lightning even struck and killed Betsy, a 6-year-old giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, as the animal roamed among tourists.
When it comes to people, the American Red Cross says about 400 who survive lightning strikes each year often suffer permanent disabilities, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness of joints, weakness and depression.
"Many people believe that lightning is infrequent and that it's not a significant risk, which is very misleading," said Rocky Lopes, senior associate for disaster education at the American Red Cross.
Lightning hits the earth an average 100 times per second - 8.6 million times a day. The United States alone receives up to 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year from as many as 100,000 thunderstorms.
A spark of lightning can reach more than five miles, reach temperatures of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million electrical volts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the number of lightning strikes each year at 40 million, and says lightning is second only to flooding as a deadly natural disaster.
The NOAA details a whole list of major lightning events, including one in July 2001 in which lightning killed six baseball players as they improperly sought shelter in the dugout, according to the NOAA. In July 1998 five firefighters in Nevada were killed when lightning struck their fire truck. In June 1998 lightning struck an outdoor rock concert in Baltimore, Md., injuring 13 - even though lightning rods were installed.
While electrical storms cause more deaths on the East coast, more forest fires result in the West - lightning is responsible for more than 10,000 forest blazes a year. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning-related deaths; Pennsylvania in lightning-related damage.
When it comes to property damage, electrical storms ignite about $100 million dollars in losses each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In fact, lightning, fire and debris removal accounted for more than 35 percent of all homeowners claims in 2000 and cost insurers more than $8,500 per claim.
"Damage caused by lightning such as fire is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies," said Jeanne Salvatore, III's vice president of consumer affairs.
III says it's important to purchase enough insurance to cover costs associated with rebuilding and replacing everything you own if fire strikes. Some insurance companies even offer discounts for sprinkler systems, smoke and burglar alarms that ring at an outside service, fire extinguishers, buildings constructed of fire-resistant materials, and highly rated fire departments.
The III also suggests you consider installing a lightning rod to protect property. They can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500 and can be tricky to install, but can help to protect property.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross offers the following tips for when a storm may be on the way:
When a storm approaches:
If you're outside:
And once the storm passes, stay away from storm-damaged areas.