Lightning Tips for Seattleites: Get Inside

By Isolde Raftery, KUOW

This summer Seattle enjoyed cool temperatures, mostly smoke-free skies, but a rare light show came in strong at the end.

Was it a fluke? Or can we expect more lightning storms next summer?

Earlier this month, our otherwise calm, drizzly clouds – turned heavy and dark. And then – they lit up the sky.

Social media was ablaze with lightning videos from all around western Washington. Like a snow day – these are unusual.

A question we got at KUOW: If Seattle gets so much rain – why not a lot of thunderstorms?

There’s a couple of reasons but here’s the big one: This isn’t Miami.

“The reason why we have so few thunderstorms around here is we’re such a long ways from warm water,” said Nick Bond, a state climatologist who teaches at the University of Washington.

Bond said the key ingredient to thunderstorms – the flashy kind – is warm temps and moisture in the air.

But when it gets hot here in Seattle, it doesn’t always get humid.

“The consequence is we get fewer thunderstorms per square mile on average than any other state of the lower 48,” he said.

So tell your Midwestern friends why we freaked out: Thunderstorms are rare here. And the ones earlier this month were spectacular.

The National Weather Service in Seattle said during the first storm, there were seven to eight lightning strikes every minute.

Bond said the Seattle area got a rare blast of warm air from the coast. “There that air that was coming in at low levels originated out of right off our coast off of Hoquiam-Aberdeen,” he said.

That air mixed in just right with something you may have noticed this summer: The nights were warm and more humid than usual.

If we know warm air and humidity make for good thunderstorms, could a changing climate mean Seattle gets thunderstorms more often?

Bond said while temperatures are going up in the Pacific Northwest, there’s no established trend for increased lighting strikes … yet

However: “We do know that in summer and early fall that it is getting a little more humid here,” Bond said. “Conceivably are odds of getting lightning are going up a little bit.”

He said it’s very likely we could get zero storms of this kind next year. There’s no sure way to tell.

But, Bond does have advice for those of us who might not be too familiar with lightning.

The first: remember the five-second rule.

“For every five seconds between the lightning flash and the roar of the thunder that lightning strike was about a mile away.”

If you can’t count to five between the flash and the sound, you better already be inside.

If you do find yourself outside when a storm starts, Bond says at the very least get on a bus or call a ride share.

A car, he said, is one of the safer places to be.

“If a charge were to hit the car it goes kind of to the outside of the frame,” he said. “If you’re in the inside all that charges around you and you don’t get the jolt yourself.”

Finally: Avoid the temptation to run up to Kerry Park to document a rare storm.

“We don’t have a lot of lightning around here,” Bond said, so “we don’t have a lot of kind of injuries or fatalities from it, but they do happen.”

See article at KUOW