How to Avoid Lightning Strikes

Steps to Keep You Safe From Thunderstorms

NOAA

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), from 1977 to 2006 lightning killed an average of 61 people per year, more than either tornadoes or hurricanes for the same time period. Only floods were responsible for more deaths in that time.

Lightning facts from the NWS:

  • 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year
  • Lightning can heat its path five times hotter than the surface of the sun
  • One ground lightning stroke can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity

Knowing where to go when thunderstorms approach is the best defense against lightning.

Steps

  1. Follow the 30/30 rule. Count the seconds after a lightning flash. If you hear thunder within 30 seconds, seek safe shelter (see step 2). Do not go outside again until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike.

    More than half of lightning-related deaths happen after the thunderstorm has passed. Danger exists whenever thunderstorms are in the area, even when clear skies are directly overhead.

  2. Only use safe shelters. Full-size buildings, such as houses or businesses, work best. Stay away from sheds or open shelters (picnic awnings or baseball dugouts). Hard-top cars, vans and trucks work well, but not golf carts, soft-top convertibles (even with the top up), bicycles, or motorcycles. Whether in a building or a car, keep all windows and doors closed.
  1. While inside, avoid anything that conducts electricity and is plugged into a wall socket -- phones, electrical outlets, lights, desktop computers, televisions, stereos, and water faucets (metal plumbing conducts electricity) are just some of the items to avoid. Portable devices such as wireless phones (stay away from the base station that's plugged into the wall), flashlights, unplugged laptop computers, and personal MP3 players are all fine. Avoid metal door or window frames.
  1. If you're caught outside, go inside immediately. No safe options exist outside. Run to your car or a safe building as soon as you hear thunder.
  2. Lightning can and does strike in the same place twice -- hundreds of times, really. Conditions that draw lightning aren't likely to change. If lightning strikes close to you, do not assume you are safe until the storm passes. See Step 1.
  3. If you are struck by lightning, call 911 immediately. If you see someone struck by lightning, call 911 and treat any injuries as appropriate. Follow the same basic first aid steps as for any other victim. Expect to see burns, and if the victim is not breathing, begin CPR immediately. There's no reason to avoid treating the victim; victims are not charged with electricity and are completely safe to touch.

Sources:

"Avoiding the Risks of Deadly Lightning Strikes." Jun 2001. NOAA Public Affairs. NOAA. 15 Apr 2007

"When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!" Lightning Safety. National Weather Service. 15 Apr 2007

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