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Middle Georgia's fall line enhances our lightning risk

Georgia has three "hot spots" for lightning, including the fall line, which crosses Middle Georgia. (MGN)

MACON, Ga - The National Weather Service says lightning is a leading cause of weather related deaths in the United States. Their records show lightning has killed 30 people in Georgia since 1995. National Weather Service lightning records show it’s most common in the afternoon and evening hours during the summer.

Lightning is costly in Georgia. The Insurance Information Institute says Georgia has ranked third or higher in the nation in losses due to lightning in the last four years. They say an average claim for lightning damage will cost over $6,000.

A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Climatology focused on lightning in Georgia. It suggests the state has three hot spots for lightning activity: the mountains, the coastal plain and the fall line, which happens to run right through the mid-state.

According to Pam Knox with the University of Georgia, "The fall line is actually an ancient shoreline. If you go back about 100-million years, that is where the Atlantic Ocean was. It runs from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, halfway through the state."

Differences in terrain, combined with an elevation change of about 600 feet, can alter weather patterns for areas along the fall line.

“The terrain does make a difference." Knox said. "When you have fairly fast winds coming and they hit the fall line and hit that rougher air, it slows down. What we have is a convergence line right along the fall line. When you have convergence, that can help to form vertical motion which is what you get when you form clouds and thunderstorms.”

Data from the National Lightning Detection Network suggests Georgia sees anywhere from 600- to 800-thousand lightning strikes each year. Most years feature at least 200 days with lightning somewhere in the state.

“It used to be that people would just report it." Knox said. "You would have to have someone there to write it down and put it in the historical record. Now we have electronic ways of doing it.”

Lightning counts are going up, but we’re not necessarily seeing more lightning, but rather getting better at detecting it. Operators of the National Lightning Detection Network continue to implement new sensors that are replacing outdated technology. Additionally, the recently launched GOES-16 weather satellite has a first of its kind mapper that can track lightning activity from space.

Macon insurance agent Alan Parker has good news. Odds are, you’re already covered should lightning strike your home or business.

“In Georgia, your typical broad-form homeowners and business owners coverage does cover lightning." Parker said. "It can also cover the fire that results from lightning.”

There are some things Parker says you can do today before the next storm hits your neighborhood.

“Double check your electrical system at your home or business." Parker said. "Get a surge protector if you can. Georgia Power even provides a surge protection system at a very low cost.”

In the end, if you live along the fall line, you shouldn’t necessarily move away to avoid lightning. While the chance of seeing lightning along the fall line is subtly higher, all of Middle Georgia is at risk for this shocking weather phenomenon.

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