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Lightning Safety Tips & Myths

Wednesday July 09th, 2014

A practical guide for staying safe during thunderstorms

When it comes to storm-related deaths, lightning is one of the top three killers. Lightning strikes take an average of 55 American lives every year, with hundreds more injured. Each strike has the potential to carry over a billion volts of current to the ground, which is 500,000 times more voltage than an electric chair.

Check out this collection of tips and tricks to keep you and your family safe during the summer storm season.

Where should I go during a thunderstorm?

The best place to be during a thunderstorm is inside of a large, enclosed structure. A building’s plumbing and electrical wiring help channel the current of a lightning strike into the ground. Avoid structures without plumbing, wiring, or with open sides, such as:

  • beach shacks or lifeguard stands
  • sheds, tents, or pop-up canopies
  • picnic shelters, park pavilions, or band shells
  • covered porches
  • carports
  • baseball dugouts

What if an enclosed structure isn’t available?

If you can’t reach a permanent shelter, the next best place is a fully enclosed vehicle, such as a car, truck, van, or bus. Avoid soft-top convertibles (even with the top up) and vehicles with open sides such as:

  • golf carts
  • quads, ATVs, and side-by-sides
  • tractors
  • construction equipment

Once inside, be sure to roll the windows up, and keep away from anything that can carry an electrical current, such as metal trim or the ignition switch.

When should I seek shelter?

You should seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. Don’t wait for rain or lightning flashes. A common misconception is that you can’t get struck if it isn’t raining where you are, but lightning strikes can occur miles away from rain clouds. If you are enjoying an outdoor activity, be sure to keep an eye out for early signs of thunderstorms such as darkening skies or strong winds.

If I’m stuck outside, should I lay flat on the ground or seek shelter under a tree?

NO! If you are caught in a storm, the best strategy is to move quickly towards a permanent structure. Laying on the ground only makes you a bigger target, and waiting under a tall, isolated tree can be disastrous. Instead, travel quickly towards any shelter you can see. Be sure to keep low, and avoid open fields, hilltops, and bodies of water if you can.

What if I’m camping, or far away from any enclosed vehicles or structures?

If it is not possible to seek other shelter, find a stand of small trees in a valley or ridge. Avoid standing water, open fields and the tops of hills. Remember, your goal is to not be the tallest thing around! Also, a tent will NOT provide any protection from lightning strikes.

What should I do when I get inside?

When you reach a permanent structure, you should steer clear of doors and windows. Also avoid anything that can carry an electrical current: such as metal pipes or railings, corded phones or other electrical equipment and any kind of wiring. In fact, unplugging nearby appliances is a great idea, but only before the storm is actually upon you.

If you’re at home, don’t forget to bring in any pets that might be outside! A doghouse or other similar structure won’t provide any real protection from lightning strikes.

What if someone is struck by lightning? What should I do?

If someone near you is injured by lightning, you need to act fast. A common myth is that lightning victims can shock you, however this is not true. It’s perfectly safe to touch someone after they have been struck. In fact, their life may depend on your help! In order of importance, you should perform the following actions:

  • If the victim is not breathing or unresponsive, you should immediately perform CPR. Use an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) if one is available.
  • Move the victim to a safer location. Lightning can and does strike twice in the same place, so don’t put yourself at risk if better shelter is nearby.
  • Call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service.

Remember, when it comes to lightning, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “When thunder roars, go indoors!”

For more information about Lightning Safety, check out the National Weather Service’s website at: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/

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