Officials stress lightning safety

Officials stress lightning safety
A Lamar County man died after being struck by lightning. Photo credit: WDAM

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi has seen two lightning strike deaths in 2016, and one of those happened in the Pine Belt.

Charles Edward Whorten III, 24 of Lumberton, was killed Monday afternoon from a lightning strike at a home on Pine Burr Road.

"This is the first one we've seen in Lamar County, this is kind of a warning to those people that have outdoor activities going on when we have severe weather approaching," Lamar County Emergency Management Director James Smith said.

The National Weather Service uses the catch phrase, "When Thunder Roars, Go indoors," and Smith said that is a good rule to practice.

"As a rule of thumb, if you can hear thunder you can be in danger," Smith said.

On Monday afternoon, severe storms pushed through portions of the Pine Belt, causing heavy rain and cloud-to-ground lightning.

"The storm was nowhere close to them, and it just kind of struck out of nowhere, so we are estimating probably 10 miles away, when this happened probably," Smith said.

The National Weather Service offers these few tips if somewhere safe is not nearby:

  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
  • If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
  • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
  • Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.

"We have been very fortunate in Lamar County for the last 18 years that I've been here, we haven't seen many weather related deaths at all," Smith said. "We have had the tornado that was a direct hit to a trailer earlier this year, and now the lightning strike death that was also isolated."

There have been nine lightning deaths across the U.S. in 2016. From 2006 to 2015, there were a total of six in Mississippi.

Smith gave credit to schools and other programs in the county for teaching severe weather safety and for people knowing what to do ahead of severe weather.

"This year has just been an unusual year, hopefully it will slow down for us and we don't have anything like this again," Smith said.