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DFW storms highlight Lightning Safety Awareness Week

As if on cue, a spectacular display of lightning swept the Metroplex late Wednesday, which also happened to be day four of Lightning Safety Awareness Week.

There were 600 residents and businesses still without power late Thursday after Wednesday's heavy storms, said Jeamy Molina, spokeswoman for Oncor Electric Delivery. The day began with 2,200 outages, and most of them were in Tarrant County, Molina said.

Meanwhile, "water cooler" conversations recounted Wednesday's light show.

"It's a coincidence," said Dan Huckaby, National Weather Service meteorologist, about the timing with lightning safety week.

"It really is an issue any time of the year," he added, "but in the summer, more people are doing outdoor activities, so we want to highlight the dangers."

Lightning is "a random, chaotic and dangerous fact of nature" that "can reach over five miles in length, soar to temperatures of approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million electrical volts," according to information from the weather service.

Summer thunderstorms, like the ones on Wednesday, tend to be very "tall," Huckaby explained. When that happens, lots of turbulence swirls in the upper clouds.

"Hail and other ice particles start rubbing against each other and that gets the charge separation needed for lightning," Huckaby said.

But to illustrate the year-round danger, the weather service has recorded eight lightning deaths so far in 2008; the first one was Jan. 11 in Aiken, S.C.

An average of about 62 people are killed each year by lightning in the United States, and last year there were 45, the weather service said.

The agency's most basic lightning safety slogan is "when thunder roars, go indoors."

But, officials also warn that lightning can be an indoor risk because it can pump electrical charges through telephone, power or plumbing lines, so avoid them during a storm.

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Wednesday's fierce weather started booming about 8:30 p.m.

"We often have a cap over us that prevents storms from forming," Huckaby explained, "but we've had a weakening in that."

But, that was just one factor. There was also plenty of upper-level instability and later afternoon heating that helped ignite the storms, Huckaby said.

At about 9 p.m., the weather service issued a flash flood warning for Northeast Tarrant County.

Rain amounts ranged from 1 to 3 inches across the county, and the highest levels were reported in Haltom City near Beach Street and Western Center Boulevard, meteorologists said.

"Here at our office, in north Fort Worth, we had an inch of rain," Huckaby said.

Meanwhile, areas along Texas 183 and Loop 820 received 2 inches of rain in about 30 minutes, officials said.

But only .25 was recorded at D/FW Airport, and only a trace was marked at Meacham Airport, Huckaby said.

Staff Writers Domingo Ramirez Jr. and Melissa Vargas contributed to this report.