Lightning Safety

According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes the U.S. roughly 25 million times during a year. On average, 47 people die from lightning strikes each year in the U.S., and lightning severely injures hundreds more. People don’t always take lightning as seriously as they should. The odds of being struck by lighting are low (1 in 500,000 according to the CDC), but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the dangers of thunderstorms. Pay attention to lightning safety, especially if you like to spend time outdoors.

The dangers of lightning strikes

Lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The sun is 9,940 °F, while lightning can reach temperatures of 50,000 °F. And despite the popular myth, lightning can strike the same place twice.

Lightning strikes are rare, but they can be fatal. The primary cause of death by lightning strike is cardiac arrest. Surviving a lightning strike can result in lifelong neurological problems, or other permanent health problems.

You don’t have to be on top of a mountain or standing out in the middle of a field to be struck by lightning. Lightning can strike you while you’re walking around the block, or even mowing your yard. In rare cases, lightning can travel indoors through plumbing, wiring, or concrete floors.

Lightning doesn’t only occur directly below a thunderstorm. It’s possible for lightning to strike more than 10 miles away from the storm. If you hear thunder, you’re in danger of being struck by lighting.

Lightning safety tips

There’s very little that you can do to protect yourself from lightning when you’re outdoors. Avoiding lightning is your best option.

Always check the weather forecast before heading outdoors. Consider rescheduling your activity for a day with better weather.

Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back any time you head outdoors for things like hiking, paddling, boating, camping, etc.

Have a lightning safety plan. Know when and where to seek shelter. A non-concrete modern building is the safest place to seek shelter, but a vehicle can provide adequate protection.

Of course, you may not be near a shelter. How do you protect yourself from lightning if you don’t have a shelter? 

  • Again, there’s really no safe place outdoors when lightning strikes. Make your way to shelter if possible.
  • Coverings – such as – tents, tarps, pavilions, awnings, etc. – don’t offer protection from lightning.
  • Get to lower terrain.
  • Avoid open areas and spread out if you’re in a group.
  • You don’t want to be the tallest object in an area. That being said, you also don’t want to stand near tall, isolated objects such as trees or towers.
  • If you can’t make it to safety, crouch down with your feet together, but do not get in a prone position. Stand on rubber or foam insulation if you have it available. This is worst case scenario as shelter is the only way to ensure safety.
  • Avoid metal objects such as benches, fences, wires, bridges, power lines, etc.  

Wait thirty minutes after thunder to resume activities. If you hear thunder, you need to get to a safe place as quickly as possible. The CDC describes a 30-30 lightning rule. Once you see lightning start counting. Go indoors immediately if you hear thunder before you reach 30 seconds. Do not resume your activity until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike.