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Lightning safety paramount as summer arrives

Lightning safety paramount as summer...

BOZEMAN, Mont. - It was an active spring for thunderstorms across western Montana.  Now that it’s summer, we’re entering the most lightning-heavy time of the year in the Northern Rockies. A woman was struck by lightning Wednesday afternoon about 16 miles northeast of Three Forks in Gallatin County. The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office tells NBC Montana she suffered minor injuries to one of her legs.​

It was a close call in what has been a long period free of lightning deaths in the Treasure State. According to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last lightning death in Montana was near the town of Bridger in 2011 when a 54 year-old man was killed on horseback while herding cattle.  Reports indicate 29 people have died from lightning strikes in Montana since 1959. The state averages over 320,000 cloud-to-ground strikes per year, according to the National Lightning Detection Network.

NOAA says 64 percent of lightning deaths since 2006 happened while people were recreating outdoors. There is no place outdoors safe from lightning when thunderstorms are present. A sturdy building or a car is the only real means of protection from lightning. If you do find yourself without either of these things, the best course of action is to find one of these shelters as quickly as possible.  Lightning can strike trees and jump to people taking shelter under them in what's known as side flash. Lightning can also spread up to 60 feet across the ground, sending charge through people nearby. It's why when traveling in group, it's good to spread out so one strike doesn't have the potential to incapacitate everyone in a severe situation.

Lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles away from the base of the storm thanks to a rare type of lightning with the opposite polarity of normal lightning. Positive lightning comes from the positively charged upper levels of a thunderstorm and only makes up about 5 percent of all lightning strikes. Most lightning strikes occur at the base of the storm and have a negative charge. Some positive lighting strikes have traveled dozens of miles along the broad upper levels of severe storms before striking the ground, a literal bolt from the blue (sky). These positive strikes are particularly dangerous not only because they can hit while the sun is shining and people are complacent, but they're also up to ten times stronger than negative strikes.

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