Strike Zone 

The Colorado Lightning Resource Center, an arm of the Pueblo-based National Weather Service (www.crh.noaa.gov/pub), and the National Lightning Safety Institute in Louisville (www.lightningsafety.com), a nonprofit education, training and inspection group, both have Web sites loaded with lightning data, statistical trends and safety tips. For example:

Before going hiking, bicycling, or even taking the kids to soccer practice, check weather reports. In Colorado, most lightning strikes begin in the mountains around 11 a.m.

If you're outside during a storm, find a sturdy building with grounded plumbing and wiring; open shelters such as covered picnic sites will not protect you. If a sturdy building is not available, get inside a hardtop automobile, which is safe not because of the rubber tires, but because lightning will travel along the outer metal shell. If you can't find a car, find the lowest possible spot, away from hilltops, tall trees, fences or poles. Drop any metal objects, such as golf clubs or umbrellas. If you feel your hair standing on end, crouch on the balls of your feet with your head down, cover your ears, and don't touch the ground with your hands. Ground currents can spread sixty feet; the more of you that comes in contact with the ground, the greater your chances of being hit by a strike.

If you're indoors, unplug appliances, stay away from metal fixtures and avoid using land-line telephones and computers. Utility lines, conduits and metal plumbing can -- and do -- conduct lightning. Do not take a shower or bath; water is also an excellent conductor. Do not venture outdoors until at least 30 minutes after the last thunderclap.

"The most important thing people need to know is the capricious nature of lightning," says Steve Hodanish, a meteorologist and lightning expert with the National Weather Service. "It can come from miles away. It can get into places where people don't think it can. People have to respect its power."

Lightning strike survivors can find support on the Web site of the North Carolina-based organization Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors International, www.lightningstrike.org.


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