Lightning expert shares safety tips after 9-year-old girl is struck and killed

July is the peak month for lightning strikes across the United States.
/ Source: TODAY

A 9-year-old girl was killed when she was struck by lightning in Moultrie, Georgia, over the holiday weekend.

Nicol Mateo-Pedro was walking along a trail with her mother and 15-year-old sister on July 3, when it began to thunder.

Colquitt County coroner Verlyn Brock, told TODAY Parents that the three “took refuge” underneath a nearby wooden shelter. But they were still vulnerable to the dangerous storm.

Lightning struck a nearby tree and traveled into the structure, hitting both Nicol and her sister. Nicol, who went into cardiac arrest, was pronounced dead at Colquitt Regional Medical Center. Her sister was transported to the John Still Burn Center in Augusta, but discharged on Monday, Brock said. Their mother was uninjured.

There have been 7 lightning fatalities in 2020, with three of them occurring this month, according to John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Lightning Safety Council.

“July is the peak month for lightning strikes in the United States,” Jensenius told TODAY Parents.

According to Jensenius, you’re in danger as soon as you hear the distant rumble of thunder. That's why it's important to pay attention to the weather forecast before heading out.

“There simply isn’t any safe place outside, which is why we want people to get inside a substantial building or a hardtop vehicle. Those are the only places that can provide a significant amount of protection,” Jensenius explained.

Though lightning tends to strike the tallest object in the immediate area, most often a tree, you should never lie down.

“After lightning strikes a tree, it spreads out along the ground surface,” Jensenius said. “It doesn’t just disappear.”

Your odds of being struck by lightning are about one in 10,000 if you're a man, and 1 in 36,000 if you're a woman, Jensenius said.

"It's important for people to take lightning very seriously," Jensenius told TODAY Parents. "Don't wait to start heading to safety."