Severe Weather Awareness Week: Lightning safety tips and how local organizations are preparing after strike takes Kansas life in 2019

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – As temperatures warm, we take to the outdoors, from festivals to marathons. We all need to be weather aware as storms approach. Lightning, on average, kills more people every year than tornadoes.

KSN Storm Track 3 Meteorologist T.J. Springer takes a look at the measures you can take to stay safe and how local organizations are preparing for severe storm season.

“It’s definitely touched all of us and has brought the Wichita running community closer together,” said Michael Langston, Director of the Chisholm Trail Marathon.

Thomas Stanley was killed last year while running a 50K at Elk City State Park near Independence. He was feet away from the finish line when he was struck and killed by lightning.

This made him Kansas’ only lightning-related death last year. Langston knew him personally and says it is still impacting the running community.

“We’re definitely all more aware of lightning and weather, especially when you go for a run outside. You definitely want to check if the weather is acceptable to run in and definitely not run in a lightning storm or inclement weather.”

Twenty people were killed nationwide by lightning in 2019. Stanley’s death was Kansas’ only lightning-related death, still putting us 3rd in the country for lightning-related fatalities.

Lightning is a factor in all thunderstorms. A strike is hotter than the surface of the sun which can reach temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit!

According to Vaisala, Kansas was ranked 3rd in the nation for lightning count, ringing in at nearly 14 million. For lightning density, we rose to 6th in the country, with 64-96 strikes per square kilometer.

We are all born with our lightning detectors – our ears. If you can hear the thunder, you are close enough to get struck by lightning.

“The best thing to do is stop running and get into a low lying area. Just try to wait it out and get to cover or shelter,” said Langston.

You want to avoid trees, water and metal objects. If you feel the hair on your neck or arms start to stand up, crouch down. Do not lay down flat.

In just a few short weeks, runners will be gearing up for the Chisholm Trail Marathon. Not only is Langston an avid runner, but he’s also the director. With such a large scale event, he says if lightning were to strike, they are ready to take action.

“We would refer to our emergency weather policy, which is on our website ChisholmTrailMarathon.com,” Langston said. “If that happened on the course, as race director, we would immediately stop the race. We have zone leaders with protocol in place. Each zone leader would then go to all the runners on the course, and instruct them to immediately vacate the course to shelter. We have gators in each one of those sections that could transport people back to shelter if needed.”

Make sure to monitor the weather forecast days in advance. Our weather can change quickly, so be ready to cancel or postpone outdoor activities.

“If the weather’s bad, go run at the YMCA or run at home. Be safe. That’s the most important thing.”

As Springer likes to say, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Remember, your behavior determines your risk of being struck by lightning.

You can monitor thunderstorms any time, anywhere on our KSN Storm Track 3 Weather app. It is free so you are never caught off-guard.

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