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What to Know About Staying Safe From Lightning Strikes

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 21, 2022

Did you know lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun? It can reach temperatures of up to 50,000 °F. Understanding the basics of lightning safety can therefore be crucial to protect yourself, your dear ones, and your house from the perils of lightning or a thunderstorm.

Lightning kills an estimated 24,000 people every year worldwide. There are many others who are injured by lightning but survive.

Many people don’t take lightning storms seriously. Finding an appropriate shelter when you’re caught in a lightning storm, though, is not easy. Whether you’re outdoors or indoors, it is important to know how to avoid getting struck by lightning and to heed specific precautions.

Outdoor Precautions

Depending on where you are outdoors, you can take care of yourself by taking the following precautions during a lightning storm:

  • "When thunder roars, go indoors." Irrespective of where you are, keep this in mind: when thunder roars, go indoors. Quickly locate and enter an enclosed space such as a shopping center, home, or office.
  • Are you in an open area? Make sure that you’re not at the highest point, especially when you’re in an open area. Look for shelters in low-lying areas such as valleys and pits while, at the same time, being careful not to get caught in a flood.
  • Are you in a car? If you’re in your car during a lightning storm, roll up your windows and keep an eye out for broken power lines that may be in contact with your car or have fallen near it. They can still discharge electricity, and you’re in danger of getting a shock when you get out of your car.
  • Are you around water? Keep away from water bodies and avoid swimming or boating if a storm is nearby. If you’re on the water, head for the nearest landmass quickly.
  • Are you in a forest? If you’re stuck in a forest, take cover under a thick growth or in an area that has dense tree cover. Don’t take shelter under a tree that is isolated or the tallest nearby.
  • Bear in mind the 30-30 rule. Remember the 30-30 rule to estimate the threat of lightning. Once you see lightning, count up to 30, and if you hear thunder before you’ve completed counting, go indoors. Once you’re indoors, stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last thunderclap you hear.
  • Avoid flash floods. Lightning storms can be followed by heavy rains that could lead to flash floods. In such a scenario, be careful when you’re looking for a shelter in a low-lying area.
  • Don’t touch conducting materials. Avoid materials that conduct electricity. These include metal items such as vehicles, power lines, golf clubs, and metal fences.

Indoor Precautions

While it is safer to be indoors during a lightning storm, you still have to take precautions:

  • Stay indoors. You’re safer being indoors. Avoid going outdoors unless the situation absolutely calls for it.
  • Avoid electrical equipment. If a storm is imminent, avoid using all electrical equipment, including refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and television sets, and stay away from them during the storm.
  • Avoid contact with water. Don’t take a bath during a lightning storm. It is also wise to completely avoid any contact with water while you are indoors. This includes washing dishes or doing laundry by hand, as water conducts electricity. If there is a lightning discharge near your residence the lightning may pass through the pipes and hit you.
  • Don’t charge devices. You must avoid working on electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops when they are plugged in during a lightning storm. It’s also best to avoid charging these devices during such times, as a lightning discharge near your house could hit these gadgets through the wires.
  • Use only cordless devices. Although cordless and mobile phones are okay, it is best not to use phones with cords. As previously mentioned, the electric current from the lightning could travel through metal pipes and wires since they are often the path of least electrical resistance.
  • Avoid direct contact with concrete. Stay away from concrete floors and walls and, at all costs, avoid sleeping on concrete floors. Concrete walls and floors have metal bars inside them that could conduct electricity, which would then strike anyone in contact with those surfaces.
  • Stay away from windows. When you’re indoors, put as many walls as you can between yourself and the outside. It is best to avoid windows, as any nearby lightning strikes could shatter the window and scatter shards of glass.

Additional Lightning Safety Tips

You can also prepare yourself by taking some of the following precautions before a lightning strike occurs.

  • If you’re in an area that is prone to experiencing lightning storms, stay informed by getting alerts from public safety information departments.
  • Prepare an emergency plan for your family based on the number of family members you have.
  • Uproot dead and rotting trees in and around your home that could be potentially hazardous.
  • Make sure that the gutters and the stormwater drains around your house are clear and allow an uninterrupted flow of water.

Also keep an emergency kit handy with essential items. This kit should include: 

  • A first-aid kit and maps showing important local landmarks.
  • At least one gallon of clean water per day, per person. Make sure you have enough water to last at least three days.
  • Ready-to-eat food such as dry fruits, vegetables, energy bars, and some comfort food. See to it that the food you store for such emergencies is non-perishable. Your food supply should also last you for a minimum of three days.
  • Keep some basic tools handy, such as a wrench and pliers, and also a flashlight, some additional batteries, and a mobile phone.
  • Have some cash ready in case there is a major power outage that hampers access to ATMs.
  • Important documents such as your identification cards, copies of your insurance policies, and any other necessary documents.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

20th International Lightning Detection Conference: “Tucson, Arizona, USA, 21-23 April, 2008.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Commonwealth of Massachusetts: “Build an Emergency Kit.”

Commonwealth of Massachusetts: “Thunderstorm and Lightning Safety Tips.”

National Weather Service: “Lightning Safety Tips and Resources.”

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