2008-06-28 / News

National Lightning Safety Week: When thunder roars, go indoors!

By Julia Dian-Reed, National Weather Service, Jeff Walker, Licking County Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security and Jim Mickey, Licking County Planning Department

NEWARK - The week of June 22-28, has been designated National Lightning Safety Week. This year's theme is When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena - lightning. But don't be fooled, lightning strikes year around.

In the United States, an average of 62 people are killed each year by lightning and hundreds of others are injured. Of the victims who were killed by lightning: • 98% were outside • 89% were male • 30% were males between the ages of 20-25 • 25% were standing under a tree • 25% occurred on or near the water

The reported number of injuries is likely far lower than the actual total number because many people do not seek help or doctors do not record it as a lightning injury.

People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of longterm, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long.

Lightning is a serious danger and you should learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your belongings.

Top 10 Myths

of Lightning Safety 1. MYTH: Lightning Never Strikes The Same Place Twice

TRUTH: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall pointy isolated object. The Empire State Building used to be used as a lightning laboratory, since it is hit nearly 25 times a year. Places prone to lightning are places to avoid when thunderstorms are nearby!

2. MYTH: If It's Not Raining, Or If Clouds Aren't Overhead, I'm Safe From Lightning

TRUTH: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or even thunderstorm cloud. 'Bolts From The Blue,',though infrequent, can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm. Anvil lightning can strike the ground over 50 miles from the thunderstorm, under extreme conditions. Lightning in clouds has traveled over 100 miles from the thunderstorm.

3. MYTH: Rubber Tires Protect You From Lightning In A Car By Insulating You From The Ground

TRUTH: Lightning laughs at two inches of rubber! Most cars are reasonably safe from lightning. But it's the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires. Thus convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open shelled outdoor recreational vehicles, and cars with plastic or fiberglass shells offer no lightning protection.

Likewise, farm and construction vehicles with open cockpits offer no lightning protection. But closed cockpits with metal roof and sides are safer than going outside. And don't even ask about sneakers!

4. MYTH: A Lightning Victim Is Electrified. If You Touch Them, You'll Be Electrocuted.

TRUTH: The human body doesn't store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.

This is the most chilling of lightning myths. Imagine someone dying needlessly, for want of simple CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, when their chances of survival was ~90%!

5. MYTH: If Outside In A Thunderstorm, Go Under A Tree To Stay Dry

TRUTH: Being underneath trees is the second leading activity for lightning casualties.

6. MYTH: I'm In A House, I'm Safe From Lightning

TRUTH: While a house is a good place for lightning safety, just going inside isn't enough. You must avoid any conducting path leading outside, such as corded telephones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, plumbing (including plastic pipes with water in them), metal doors or window frames, etc. Don't stand near a window to watch the lightning. An inside room is generally best.

7. MYTH: When Playing Sports And Thunderstorms Threaten, It's Okay To Finish The Game Before Seeking Shelter

TRUTH: Sports is the activity with the fastest rising rate of lightning casualties. No game is worth death or life-long severe injury. All people associated with sports should have a lightning safety plan and stick to it strictly. Seek proper shelter immediately when lightning threatens. Adults are responsible for the safety of children!

8. MYTH: Structures With Metal, Or Metal On The Body (Jewelry, Watches, Glasses, Backpacks, Etc.), Attract Lightning

TRUTH: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes virtually no difference on where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone, but receive many strikes each year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately. Don't waste time shedding metal off your body, or seeking shelter under inadequate structures. But while metal doesn't attract lightning, touching or being near long metal objects (fences, railings, bleachers, vehicles, etc.) is still unsafe when thunderstorms are nearby. If lightning does happen to hit it, the metal can conduct the electricity a long distance (even over 100 yards) and still electrocute you.

9. MYTH: If Trapped Outside And Lightning Is About To Strike, Lie Flat On The Ground

TRUTH: This advice is out of date. Better advice is to use the Lightning Crouch': put your feet together, squat low, tuck your head, and cover your ears. Lightning induces electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 Feet away. While lying flat on the ground gets you as low as possible, which is good, it increases your chance of being hit by a ground current, which is bad. The best combination of being low and touching the ground as little as possible is the Lightning Crouch'. But it should be used only as a last resort.

10. MYTH: Go near a tall pointy isolated object when thunderstorms threaten, to be within the 45 cone of protection"

TRUTH: The "cone of protection" is a myth! While tall pointy isolated objects are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning, it's not nearly reliable enough to rely on for safety. Lightning can still strike you near the tall object. Besides, the lightning electricity will likely spread out along the surface of the ground and can still kill you over 100 feet from the protecting object. Also, if you are close to or touching the tall object, you can be electrocuted via side flash or contact voltage.

NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE NEAR A THUNDERSTORM!

Distance and proper shelter is your best protection from lightning.

Are You Ready for a

Thunderstorm? Here's what you can do to prepare yourself and your family

Before Lightning Strikes...

Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder.

If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately!

Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for the latest weather forecasts.

When a Storm Approaches...

Find shelter in a building or car. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles.

Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.

Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.

Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job!

Draw blinds and shades over windows. If windows break due to objects blown by the wind, the shades will prevent glass from shattering into your home.

If Caught Outside...

If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.

If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately!

Protect Yourself Outside...

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.

Be a Very Small Target!

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!

If Someone is Struck by Lightning...

People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely.

Call for help. Get someone to dial 9-1-1. The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body. Check for burns in both places.

Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.

Learn First Aid and CPR…

Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR course.

Safe Shelters & Indoor Safety

What is a Safe Shelter?

A house or other substantial building offers the best protection from lightning. In assessing the safety provided by a particular structure, it is more important to consider what happens if the structure gets struck by lightning, rather than whether the structure will be hit by lightning. For a shelter to provide protection from lightning, it must contain a mechanism for conducting the electrical current from the point of contact to the ground. These mechanisms may be on the outside of the structure, may be contained within the walls of the structure, or may be a combination of the two. On the outside, lightning can travel along the outer shell of the building or may follow metal gutters and downspouts to the ground. Inside a structure, lightning can follow conductors such as the electrical wiring, plumbing, and telephone lines to the ground.

Avoid Unsafe Shelters!

Unless specifically designed to be lightning safe, small structures do little, if anything, to protect occupants from lightning. Many small open shelters on athletic fields, golf courses, parks, roadside picnic areas, schoolyards and elsewhere are designed to protect people from rain and sun, but not lightning. A shelter that does not contain plumbing or wiring throughout, or some other mechanism for grounding from the roof to ground is not safe. Small wooden, vinyl, or metal sheds offer little or no protection from lightning and should be avoided during thunderstorms.

How Lightning Enters a House or Building

There are three main ways lightning enters homes and buildings: (1) a direct strike, (2) through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, and (3) through the ground. Regardless of the method of entrance, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio/television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Stay Safe While Inside

Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States. Lightning can travel long distances in both phone and electrical wires, particularly in rural areas. Stay away from windows and doors as these can provide the path for a direct strike to enter a home. Do not lie on the concrete floor of a garage as it likely contains a wire mesh. In general, basements are a safe place to go during thunderstorms. However, there are some things to keep in mind. Avoid contact with concrete walls, which may contain metal reinforcing bars. Avoid washers and dryers since they not only have contacts with the plumbing and electrical systems, but also contain an electrical path to the outside through the dryer vent.

Remember Your Pets

You may want to consider the safety of your family pets during thunderstorms. Dog houses are not lightning-safe. Dogs that are chained to trees or chained to wire runners can easily fall victim to a lightning strike.

Protect Your Personal Property

Lightning also causes significant damage to personal property each year. In addition to direct strikes, lightning generates electrical surges that can damage electronic equipment some distance from the actual strike. Typical surge protectors will NOT protect equipment from a lightning strike. To the extent possible, unplug any appliances or electronic equipment before a thunderstorm threatens. This includes not only the electrical system, but also the reception system. If you plan to be away from your home when thunderstorms are possible, be sure to unplug unneeded equipment before you leave.

Summary of Lightning Safety Tips for Inside the Home

Avoid contact with corded phones

Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords.

Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry.

Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.

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