Lightning Safety 101 – Knowing Before is Half the Battle

Flash! Boom! Another lightning bolt, followed by the rolling clap of thunder, streaks through the air as a thunderstorm fast approaches. Common throughout spring and summer, thunderstorms should send everyone scurrying for cover. On average, 62 people are killed each year by lightning in the United States.

Credit: WeatherBug user Glenn Holland of Southlake, Texas, took this picture of a dangerous lightning storm.

Credit: WeatherBug user Glenn Holland of Southlake, Texas, took this picture of a dangerous lightning storm.

The following tips will help you stay safe before, during and after a thunderstorm.

Before the Storm - It is important to know how to recognize when you are at risk for a lightning storm. Knowing that a storm is coming will allow you to make plans to be indoors before the storm strikes!

  • Check WeatherBug for the forecast before heading out.
  • Check the radar and lightning detection sections of WeatherBug to see if storms are heading towards your area.
  • Storms can form overhead, so always check the sky for large cumulus clouds as these are the first sign of thunderstorms.
  • If you feel like a storm is on its way it is imperative to stop your outdoor activities and move to a safe indoor area.
  • Lightning can strike before the rain, so be someplace safe before the threat is upon you. To check the distances of the storm from you, use the 30-second rule. Count how many seconds from the flash till you hear thunder. If it is greater than 30 seconds, this means you are at least 6 miles away from the storm. If less than 30 seconds, this means you are in the threat area and you should take cover immediately.
Credit: WeatherBug user Michael Minery took this picture in Lake Havasu City, AZ

Credit: WeatherBug user Michael Minery took this picture in Lake Havasu City, AZ

Outside the Storm – You should never be outside during a thunderstorm. If you are outside when a storm strikes find shelter as soon as possible. If you are not near shelter during a thunderstorm, here are a few things you can do to greatly reduce your chances of being struck.

  • You should never be outside during a thunderstorm. If you are outside when a storm strikes find shelter as soon as possible.
  • If you are not near shelter during a thunderstorm, here are a few things you can do to greatly reduce your chances of being struck.
  • Go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects.
  • If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shortest trees.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately.
  • Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding.
  • Be a very small target, Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Laying flat on the ground will actually make you a larger target.
  • Wait 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning was seen before it is safe to return to your activities.
Credit: WeatherBug user Michael Mattingly from Paris, TN

Credit: WeatherBug user Michael Mattingly from Paris, TN

Inside During a Storm - Indoors is the safest place during a storm. There are still hazards to watch out for.

  • Do not use corded phones. Lightning can travel through the phone lines and electrocute you.
  • Lightning can also travel through pipes. Do not take showers, bathes or do dishes while a thunderstorm is occurring.
  • Have flashlight and/or candles ready. Power failures often occur during thunderstorms.
  • Unplug or turn off electronics. Lightning can cause damaging power surges.
Credit: l∞senut via Flickr

Credit: l∞senut via Flickr

Struck by Lightning - If you see someone get struck by lightning it is important that you help them as soon as possible.

  • Don’t worry, people struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely.
  • Call for help. Get someone to dial 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number.
  • The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned where they were struck and where the electricity left their body.
  • Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.

It is important to help victims as soon as possible because left untreated, people struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long periods of time.

Credit: WeatherBug user Nancy Diem from Imlay City, MI

Credit: WeatherBug user Nancy Diem from Imlay City, MI

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