When thunder roars, go indoors!
Published 3:12 pm Monday, June 12, 2023
Lightning is truly a force of nature. Perhaps the most underrated weather hazard, lightning has the ability to make every thunderstorm a tragic one, whether a storm produces one lightning bolt or thousands.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lightning kills 20-30 people on average every year in the United States. It is important to remember that lightning can strike outside of a storm itself. “It is the first thunder hazard to arrive and the last to leave,” as NOAA puts it.
Studies have shown that most people struck by lightning are struck before or after the thunderstorm has hit its peak. NOAA states, “Lightning can strike more than 10 miles away from the location of rainfall.” The sound of thunder indicates that your location is within striking distance, and shelter should be sought out immediately. It is recommended that those subject to a thunderstorm stay in a safe location for at least 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.
Although lightning is unpredictable and there cannot be guaranteed protection from it, there are several things you can do to stay as safe as possible during a storm. NOAA shared that the safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a “large, enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring,” including, but not limited to, the inside of shopping centers, schools, office buildings and private residences. This is because plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity from the lightning more efficiently than our bodies will. If there are no nearby buildings, staying inside of a metal vehicle such as a car, truck, van or school bus is an alternative.
NOAA advises those located in an area experiencing a thunderstorm should not stay inside of a beach shack, metal shed, picnic pavilion, carport, porch or anywhere that has exposed opening(s). Convertible vehicles do not offer safety from lightning. Golf carts, tractors and construction equipment are not viable options for hunkering down during a thunderstorm.
Once you have a safe location to stay during a storm, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures. Going to an interior room within the aforementioned safe buildings is best. Do not use electric appliances, particularly cordless telephones, unless it is an emergency. If you have a cell phone or laptop that is not plugged in, that would be a preferred method of communication. Avoid taking showers or baths. If you are staying inside a metal vehicle, ensure all windows are up and avoid contact with items that will conduct electricity, such as radios, ignitions and CBs.
The best way to minimize the risk of being struck by lighting is to plan ahead. Check the weather report before gatherings and events, and stay on top of developing storms by utilizing local weather TV channels, smart phone weather apps and portable radios. If you are outside and notice a storm approaching, seek shelter immediately. If you hear thunder, do not wait to go to a safe location. Avoid resuming outdoor activities until 30 minutes after the last thunderclap.