Lightning Safety Tips

Photo of a lightning bolt

Did you know that National Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 18-24, 2006? This month we would like to share some lightning awareness facts and tips.

In October 1997, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published findings of some 35 years of USA lightning statistics. Fatalities, injuries, and damage were compiled for the years 1959-1994. Here is a summary of the Report:

1. Location of Incident:

40% No location specified. (could be anywhere).
27% Open fields & recreation areas (not golf).
14% Under trees (not golf).
8% Water-related (boating, fishing, swimming).
5% Golf/golf under trees.
3% Heavy equipment and machinery-related.
2.4% Telephone-related.
0.7% Radio, transmitter & antenna-related.

2. Months with the most incidents were: June (21%), July (30%) and August (22%)

3. Days of week with the most incidents were: Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday.

4. Time of day of most incidents = 2 PM to 6 PM.

As you can see, lightning is mostly an outdoor summer concern. Keep in mind, however, lightning is a form of electricity that can travel into your house through wiring and plumbing.

What protective measures can you take before storms strike?

You can prepare for summer thunderstorms and lightning storms by removing dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm and remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule:

  • Go indoors after seeing lightning if you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder.

  • Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

The following are guidelines as to what you should do if a lightning or thunderstorm is forecast for your area:

  • Postpone outdoor activities.
  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Close windows and secure outside doors. Close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
  • Unplug (don't just turn off) appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.

When you can hear thunder, see lightning or the 30/30 rule applies, avoid the following:

  • Natural lightning rods such as tall, isolated trees in an open areas
  • Hilltops, open fields, beaches, or boats on the water
  • Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas
  • Anything metaltractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, and bicycles
  • Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees.

During a Thunderstorm:

  • IMPORTANT: Anywhere you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike) squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.

  • if you are outdoors, where possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows completely shut. Avoid close proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.

  • If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.

  • If you are in a low place such as a ravine or valley, be alert for flash floods.

  • If you are on open water, get to land and find shelter immediately.

  • If you are indoors; avoid water, stay away from doors and windows, do not use the telephone. Take off head sets and stay away from appliances, computers, power tools, & TV sets.

What do you do if a person is hit by lightning?

  • Please know that a person's body will not hold a charge and you can safely handle a person who has been hit by lightning.
  • Call 9-1-1 from a cordless or cellphone for medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • If the heart has stopped, administer CPR and if breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • If the victim has a pulse and is breathing, look for other possible injuries. Check for burns where the lightning entered and left the body.
  • Also be alert for nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing and eyesight.

  • Report your findings to the emergency medical technicians when they arrive.