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Lightning Safety
Lightning Precautions & Safety Tips
Safety tips:
  • If you plan to be outdoors, check the latest weather forecast and keep a weather eye on the sky.
    At signs of an impending storm, towering thunderheads, darkening skies, lightning, and / or increasing wind, tune in your NOAA Weather Radio, AM-FM radio, or television for the latest weather information.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
    "Heat lightning" is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction. Remember, lightning may strike some miles from the parent cloud. Precautions should be taken even though the thunderstorm is not directly overhead.
  • You are in danger from lightning if you can hear thunder.
    Because light travels so much faster than sound, lightning flashes can sometimes be seen long before the resulting thunder is heard. When the lightning and thunder occur very close to one another, the lightning is striking nearby. To estimate the number of miles you are from a thunderstorm, count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder. Divide this number by five. Every five seconds equals one mile. If you count 40 seconds or less the storm is very close and you should immediately follow the lightning safety rules
  • Learn how to squat low to the ground.
    Make yourself the smallest target possible for lightning and minimize contact with the ground.
  • Lightning current often enters a victim through the ground rather than by a direct overhead strike.
    Assume a crouched position on the ground with only the balls of the feet touching the ground, place your hands on your knees, and lower your head. Minimize your body's surface area, and minimize contact with the ground.

Lightning Education for Children
The sound of thunder can be especially frightening for young children. Take the "scariness" away by teaching them what to expect during a thunderstorm and how to be safe. What to tell children:
  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely.
    Many people take shelter from the rain, but most people struck by lightning are not in the rain! Postponing activities is your best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
  • If you see or hear a thunderstorm coming, go inside a sturdy building or car.
    Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be. If no building is nearby, a hard-top vehicle will offer some protection. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles. 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. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • If you can't get inside and if you feel your hair stand on end.
    Lightning is about to strike, Crouch down on the balls of your feet, place your hands on your knees and lower your head. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize contact with the ground.
  • Practice the "crouch down" position.
    Show children how to practice squatting low to the ground to be the smallest target possible for lightning in case they get caught outside in a thunderstorm. Show them how to place their hands on their knees and lower their head, crouching on the balls of their feet.
  • Stay away from tall things like trees, towers, fences, telephone lines, or power lines.
    They attract lightning. Never stand underneath a single large tree out in the open, because lightning usually strikes the highest point in an area.

    Stay away from metal things that lightning may strike, such as umbrellas, baseball bats, fishing rods, camping equipment, and bicycles.

    Lightning is attracted to metal and poles or rods.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land immediately.
    Stay away from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water and get off the beach. The saturated sand conducts electricity very well. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. When lightning strikes nearby, the electrical charge can travel through the water. Each year people are killed by nearby lightning strikes while in or on the water or on the beach.
  • Turn off the air conditioner and television, and stay off the phone until the storm is over.
    Lightning can cause electric appliances, including televisions and telephones, to become dangerous during a thunderstorm.
  • Stay away from running water inside the house; avoid washing your hands or taking a bath or shower.
    ElectriCity from lightning has been known to come inside through plumbing. When inside, stay away from TV sets, electrical appliances, bathtubs and sinks, do not talk on the telephone, or play on the computer, Never touch an electrical cord or outlet.

Outside Thunderstorm Safety
What to do if you are outside and a severe thunderstorm is approaching:
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land, get off the beach, and find shelter immediately.
    Stay away from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. When lightning strikes nearby, the electrical charge can travel through the water. Each year, numbers of people are killed by nearby lightning strikes while in or on the water.
  • Take shelter in substantial, permanent, enclosed structures, such as reinforced buildings.
    Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be. Avoid unprotected gazebos, rain or picnic shelters, golf carts, base-ball dugouts and bleachers. While many people take shelter from rain in these locations, they are often isolated structures in otherwise open areas, and, therefore, a target for lightning. In addition, gazebos and picnic shelters are often poorly anchored and subject to being uprooted and blown around in strong thunderstorm winds. They also offer little protection from large hail.
  • If there are no reinforced buildings in sight, take shelter in a car.
    Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles. 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. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • If you are in the woods, find an area protected by a low clump of trees.
    Never stand underneath a single large tree in the open. Be aware of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas.
  • As a last resort and if no structure is available, go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding.
    Have as little contact with the ground as possible. Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible. Do not lie flat on the ground this will make you a larger target.
  • Avoid tall structures such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone poles, telephone lines, and power lines.
    Lightning strikes the tallest objects in an area. Get off the top of a hill and try to find a ravine or valley if possible.
  • Stay away from natural lightning rods, such as golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles, and camping equipment.
    Lightning is attracted to metal and poles or rods. Put down golf clubs and take off golf shoes. Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, and rails. If you are in a group in the open, spread out. Keeping people several yards apart.
  • If you are isolated in a level field and you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike), bend forward, putting your hands on your knees. Crouch on the balls of your feet. Do not lie flat on the ground.
    The electrical build-up just before lightning strikes will cause your hair to stand on end. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize contact with the ground. Do not lie flat!

Lightning Injury
What to do if someone is struck by lightning:
  • Call for help
    Get someone to dial 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number. Medical attention is needed as quickly as possible.
  • Give first aid.
    If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR. If the person has a pulse and is breathing, look and care for other possible injuries.
  • Check for burns in two places.
    The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body.

    Being struck by lightning can also cause nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing or eyesight. People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge that can shock other people, and they can be handled safely.