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NWS Juneau Lightning Page

Lightning Safety Awareness Week

Canadian Lightning Page

The National Weather Service in Juneau has developed this page to promote lightning safety and education. More deadly than hurricanes or tornadoes, each year in the U.S. lightning kills an average of 54 people with hundreds permanently injured. Lightning deaths and injuries are unusual in Alaska, but not unheard of. In 1986, a teenage girl was killed and three other people injured near Tok when they took shelter under a tree. In 1993, a young man was injured by lightning while standing on a ball field in North Pole, Alaska.

Thunderstorms and lightning are rare in Southeast Alaska when compared with the Alaskan Interior and most of the Lower 48. Usually they are observed along the Outer Coast as strong cold fronts move in from the Gulf of Alaska. Interestingly, these storms can occur during the winter months as well as during summer. On some occasions thunderstorms can develop or spread over the Inner Channels of the Panhandle. The last time this occurred was in June of 2000 when outbreak of scattered thunderstorms moved through the Juneau area.

Lightning is responsible for about 97 percent of the acreage lost to wildfires in Alaska. BLM sensors positioned across the interior have located an average of 26,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year. Very active thunderstorm days may feature 2,000 to 5,000 lightning strikes, mainly occurring during the late afternoon hours in late June and early July. The most active thunderstorm area in Alaska, based on cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, is the White Mountains north of Fairbanks.

In Southeast Alaska, the risk of wildfire due to lightning strikes is much less prevalent than in the Interior. However, the risk to boaters on the water, hikers in the mountains and sports enthusiasts on ball fields and golf courses is much more significant.

Historic lightning

H.M. Ship SURINAM struck by lightning off the coast of France December 11, 1906. Lightning "struck the mainmast and split it in pieces." Two crewmen were killed and four injured. The ship was in grave danger of drifting onto a lee shore. Taken from "The Thunder-Storm", Charles Thomlinson, F.R.S., 1877, p. 174.

Some Lightning Safety Tips for Southeast Alaska

Boating lightning safety:
  • Research and invest in a lightning protection system for your boat. Remember however there is no such thing as a lightning-proof boat!
  • Always check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. If possible continue to monitor the weather while out on the water via NOAA Weather Radio. If thunderstorms are in the forecast the best bet is to stay ashore!
  • Discontinue fishing, scuba diving or other water related activities when there is lightning or even when skies look threatening. The first lightning strike can be a mile or more ahead of an approaching thunderstorm cloud.
  • If time permits lower, remove or tie down your radio antenna and other protruding devices if they are not part of a lightning protection system.
  • If caught in a lightning storm, keep away from metal objects.
  • Disconnect and do not touch electronic equipment, including the radio, throughout the duration of the storm.
  • Learn CPR. There is no danger in touching someone after they have been struck by lightning.
  • If you think your boat may have been struck by lightning be sure to have the electrical system and compasses checked out for damage.
Outdoor lightning safety:
  • If possible, get indoors or inside a hard topped vehicle with the windows closed. Do not touch any metal inside the vehicle.
  • Stay away from trees. Stay twice as far from a tree as it is tall.
  • If caught hiking, don't be the tallest object around. In the mountains try to get below the treeline or the smallest grove of trees or shrubs. Discard any metal (backpacks, etc).
  • Never stay in a group! Stay at least 20 yards a part. If someone gets struck the others in the group will be able to help.
  • Get medical attention immediately if someone is struck. Give first aid and Call 9-1-1. There is no danger in touching someone after they have been struck by lightning.
Indoor lightning safety:
  • Do not use corded phones.
  • Stay away from windows and doors. Stay off porches.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not shower, do laundry, wash your hands or dishes until the storm passes.
  • Avoid contact with electronic equipment, cords and plugs. Before a storm arrives, unplug computers and other valuable electronics. Typical surge protectors will not protect against a lightning strike.
  • Stay off concrete floors and walls. These likely contain metal reinforcing bars.

For more information on lightning check these out:

Lightning safety from the National Weather Service

Another great NWS lightning information site

*You'll need the Adobe Reader for these links:

Information on protecting your home from lightning

Questions or Comments? Contact our Warning Coordination Meteorologist: Joel Curtis