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40,000 lightning strikes recorded during recent storm

By Star-Advertiser Staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 p.m. HST, May 4, 2011

Photo Gallery: Reader submitted storm photos

This week's thunderstorms are a reminder that lightning, although rare in Hawaii, can strike here and is dangerous, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Ballard said today.

Forecasters estimate there were about 40,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes statewide during a 30-hour period as the storm moved over Hawaii Monday into Tuesday. During the peak of the storm between about 7 p.m. and midnight, about 15,000 lightning strikes were recorded.

And lightning may strike again early next week as the same weather system in the upper atmosphere that caused the thunderstorms is predicted to move back over the islands.

The spectacular lightning storm did not cause any injuries. But Ballard said residents need to be aware that lightning can strike even when it's not raining and people need to go inside as soon as they hear thunder.

"People are most at risk from lightning when it's on the edge of the storm," he said. "When it's raining people tend to go indoors. People have a false sense of security. They think when it's not raining they can't be struck."

Ballard said there have been lightning injuries here, but there has not been a lightning death recorded since at least 1959, when the weather service first began keeping records.

"We don't want anyone here to be the first (death)," he said.

"We appreciate the beauty of the lightning. The photos looked spectacular," he said. "But we want people to be safe. Don't go up to the Diamond Head Lookout to take photos. Then you're really asking for it."

This week's storms were caused by warm, moist air rising from the ground into a cold unstable weather system in the upper atmosphere.

That same upper level weather system is moving back over the islands starting Friday, Ballard said. The tradewinds should keep thunderstorms from developing, although we may see heavier tradewind showers, he said.

However, the tradewinds could weaken early next week and there's a possiblity of lightning and heavy rain through Wednesday, Ballard said.

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