With peak lightning season in Central Alberta only about two weeks away, Environment Canada is reminding everyone to head indoors when thunder roars.
July is the month that most lightning occurs and the last two weeks of June is second highest.
Red Deer saw a total of 22,098 lightning strikes (within 25 km) from 1999 to 2013. That compares with Edmonton, which had 32,894, and Calgary at 22,121. Victoria, B.C., had a mere 843 strikes in the same period, according to Environment Canada, noting also that this week is Lightning Safety Week.
Meteorologist Kirk Torneby said Tuesday that one of the busiest areas in Canada for lightning is Alberta’s foothills, where on average there are about 300,000 strikes per year.
The big driver of thunderstorms in Alberta is the uneven heating of the terrain to the west, which also leads to moisture changes. A little moist air at low levels is usually one of the main trigger points, Torneby said.
Crops are another bigger contributing factor as during the day they add moisture to the air through evapotranspiration, Torneby said.
Thunderstorms are starting to pop up again, he said, adding that there is some potential this week for scattered ones in the area. Environment Canada’s Lightning Danger Map was showing activity late Tuesday afternoon northwest of Red Deer.
“Any electrified storm has that potential to cause safety issues for people,” said Torneby.
Research show that two-thirds of lightning strikes actually occur when the storm is not directly overhead but rather when lightning is just approaching or passing by.
On average, 10 people are killed each year in Canada and 100 to 150 are injured and not necessarily by a direct flash. Often it’s from ground current that strikes near someone and travels through the ground, or it’s a secondary leader flash with the main lightning strike far away.
Torneby said the Canadian Lightning Detection network of remote sensing devices in towers tracks whether lightning hits the ground or travels between the clouds.
The safest place to be when there is lightning is indoors, but if you are outdoors and cannot get indoors, find a low-lying area and avoid tall objects such as trees or get inside an all-metal car, he said.
The most frequent time of day for lightning is between 1 and 6 p.m. Lightning season in Alberta usually ends around Sept 15.
The Canadian Lightning Danger Map and more information about lightning can be found online at weather.gc.ca/lightning