Lightning Strikes and Storm Safety

Child Safety Basics

Multiple lightning strikes during a thunderstorm.
Multiple lightning strikes during a thunderstorm.. NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

Facts about Lightning Strikes

Lightning strikes are common.

According to the National Weather Service, there are an average of 25 million lightning strikes are detected each year in the United States.

Of course, few of them actually hit people.

Some facts about lightning include that:

  • thunderstorms, which produce lightning, are most common in the early afternoon
  • the peak season for lightning strikes is during the summer, with most deaths from lightning strikes occurring in June, July, and August
  • lightning can strike even when a thunderstorm is five to ten miles away
  • about 400 people are hit by lightning each year
  • about 3 to 10 children and teens die from lightning strikes each year

And in addition to the danger of getting struck by lightning, parents should be aware of the dangers of house fires that are triggered by lightning strikes. Be sure to have a smoke alarm and home fire escape plan to help make sure your family gets out safely if your home is struck by lightning and catches fire.

Lightning Strikes

Historically, lightning has killed about 55 people each year (30 year average). There have been fewer deaths in recent years though. Since 2001, the average number of deaths each year has decreased to 39.

Some recent lightning fatalities in children and teens less than 18 years of age include:

  • a 17-year-old from Tempe, Arizona who died after he was hit by lightning while hiking near the summit Humphreys Peak . (2016)
  • a 12-year-old from North Little Rock, Arkansas who died after she was hit by lightning while playing volleyball on the beach with friends in Fort Morgan, Alabama. (2015)
  • a 17-year-old in Fayette County, West Virginia who died after he was hit by lightning while fishing on a private pond. (2015)
  • an 8-year-old in Fulton Township, Pennsylvania who died after he was hit by lightning while running through a field, away from a creek where he had been swimming with friends as a storm moved in. (2014)
  • a 17-year-old was struck by lightning near Sonoita, Arizona as a severe storm blew into the area. (2014)
  • a 16-year-old in Etowah, Arkansas was struck by lightning under a tree beside a church where his mother had been working. (2014)
  • an 8-year-old was struck by lightning in San Antonio, Texas while playing in his backyard (2013)
  • a 17-year-old was struck by lightning in Downers Grove, Illinois in a park (2013)

The fact that getting hit by lightning is a rare event is often used by people to compare it other risks kids may face.

Sure, the odds that any of us will get hit by lightning is only about 1 in 1,000,000 each year, but that doesn't mean that you don't take precautions so that you don't get hit. If everyone went outside during a thunderstorm and stood under the tallest tree they could find, you can be sure those statistics would change.

The odds of a child or teen being stuck and killed by lightning are even lower, about 1 in 7,000,000.

Lightning and Storm Safety

Since thunder, the sound made by lightning, can be heard within about 10 miles of a lightning strike, if you can hear thunder, you are at risk of getting hit by lightning.

This is an important lesson to teach kids, who often wait too long before seeking shelter or who may even stop to look at lightning.

It is also important to teach kids to get inside to a safe building or a safe vehicle during a thunderstorm and stay there for at least 30 minutes until the thunder and lightning stops.

Lightning safety tips that should understand that:

  • they are not safe under a tree during a thunderstorm
  • the dugout at a baseball field is not a safe shelter from lightning
  • an open patio, open garage, pavilion, or picnic shelter are not safe buildings during a thunderstorm

A safe shelter during a thunderstorm would include a building with walls, a roof, plumbing, and electrical wiring. Your kids should stay away from the plumbing and electrical equipment, including corded telephones, though, in case the building gets hit by lightning.

Safe vehicles include those with a hard-topped roof, including cars, trucks, and minivans.

Most lightning deaths are not in organized team sports or when kids are camping, but when people are simply outside during thunderstorms. When most people are hit by lightning, they are either outside or under a tree.

That makes it crucial to know that storms are coming, so you have time to get inside. While a weather radio is an important high tech parenting gadget that everyone should have, there are also plenty of apps that you can install on your smart phone to warn you about severe storms and lightning.

Spark, for example, is included in the Weatherbug app, and is a great addition to the lightning detectors that many ball fields now use.

But don't rely on these kinds of lightning alerts.

When thunder roars, go indoors!

That is the safety message of the National Weather Service and is a good simple phrase to teach kids.

What To Know About Lightning Strikes and Storm Safety

Follow local weather reports so that you know if bad weather is expected and have a plan to get inside as soon as you hear thunder.

National Weather Service. Lightning: What You Need to Know. Accessed July 2016.

National Weather Service. Lightning Fatalities for 2016 by State. Accessed July 2016.

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