Concentrated lightning strikes caused three homes to catch fire within a 10-block radius in southwest Killeen last Thursday evening, an occurrence fire officials say is abnormal.
“It’s a little unusual to get compartmentalized strikes,” said Killeen Fire Chief Brian Brank, who attributed the lightning to one cell over the area producing more lightning than normal.
No new lightning strikes were reported with the system over the weekend, Brank said, but they can occur anytime there is a storm.
“They happen every year, it just depends on how intense (the storm is,)” Brank said. “It’s a normal part of a thunderstorm.”
“There are two different types of lightning,” said Meteorologist Bianca Villanueva with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. “There’s cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud strikes. Cloud-to-ground is impacting to people.”
According to Vaisala, a company that runs the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN), Texas led the nation in cloud-to-ground strikes in 2017 with a documented 3.3 million flashes that reached the ground.
The company said in a January 2018 news release that over 21 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes were detected by more than 100 stations around the United States in 2017.
“We get thunderstorms in the spring and the fall regularly, when you get the convergence of the warm and cold weather coming through,” Brank said. “A month to three weeks from now, you’ll be entering fall.”
There have been 15 deaths nationally caused by lightning strikes thus far in 2018, according to the National Weather Service, one of which was in Honey Island, Texas, in February, the only lightning death in the state so far this year.
The weather service estimates an average of 28 deaths per year nationally over a 10-year span and recommends that individuals seek shelter during thunderstorms to avoid potential lightning strikes.
“Lightning is always seeking the path of least resistance,” Meteorologist Lee Carlaw said. “So that’s why you’ll see the metal spikes on top of tall buildings, connected to a copper wire or pipe connected to the ground, so that if lightning hits it, it can discharge easily.”
Brank advised individuals interested in seeking this type of protection to get rods professionally installed to make sure they are properly grounded.
“There have been some rare instances of individuals getting struck through their TV,” Carlaw said. “Stay off of any corded phones, stay out of the shower (during lightning.)”
For more information on safety during thunderstorms, visit https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/thunderstorm.html.