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Lightning

Lightning Storm Safety
How to reduce your risks

By a huge margin, the safest place in a thunderstorm is a "safe building" – a home or other substantial building that’s wired, plumbed, and equipped with a lightning rod or similar protective system. Those three systems give lightning a path to the ground that doesn’t involve you.

A "safe vehicle" – a metal-topped, fully enclosed car, bus, truck or van with windows up – is a distant second in safety. (Oh, and rubber tires aren't the safe part. It's the metal cage that may keep current away from you.)

You’re not reliably safe anywhere else during a thunderstorm. Getting into a safe building or vehicle should be your first aim. Otherwise, you can slightly reduce your risks by taking other measures.

Far in advance of any storm

  • Teach your family what to do in severe weather.
  • Know weather patterns, and plan outdoor activities for the least hazardous times of day or year.
  • Get a portable NOAA weather radio or know what radio stations/Web sites carry local watches and warnings.
  • Don't rely on watching the sky. Lightning can strike from a clear sky 10 miles from any rain.
  • Learn the 30/30 rule: If there are fewer than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, the storm is within 10 miles and you're in immediate danger. Get into a safe building or vehicle for as long as lightning is a threat, which is 30 minutes after thunder stops.
  • Know that every second counts. React immediately when you perceive a threat. Don't try to wait it out.
  • Learn CPR (lightning deaths are from cardiac arrest) and first aid for burns.

In populated areas

Before the storm is in your area:

  • Get into a safe building: a home, office, store, library, or large public building.
  • Avoid sheds, carports, covered patios or porches, dugouts, bus shelters, greenhouses, bleachers, tents, and other unenclosed, ungrounded shelters. They won't protect you, and may endanger you.
  • Close exterior doors and windows.
  • Unplug computers, TVs, and other electronics. A surge protector won't block a direct lightning strike.

Once the storm is within 10 miles:

  • Stay in an interior area, away from windows, skylights, and glass doors.
  • Avoid plumbing and wiring systems. Don't touch corded electronics or telephones, wash dishes or hands, take showers, or do laundry.
  • Avoid direct contact with concrete floors or walls, as they likely contain metal mesh or reinforcing bars.

On the road

If you're in a fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle -- car, van, or bus -- you have some protection.

  • Stay in the vehicle.
  • Try to pull over if you can park safely out of traffic.
  • Don't park under an overpass or in any low-lying area that could flood.
  • Turn off the engine; keep windows and doors closed.
  • Turn on your emergency flashers.
  • Avoid touching metal: that includes doors, steering wheel, stick shift, and any corded radios or devices. Sit still with your hands in your lap.

You're not safe in a convertible, golf cart, open-cab construction vehicle, or other vehicle that isn't fully enclosed, doesn't have a metal top, or is mostly fiberglass or plastic.

  • Get to a safe building or vehicle before the storm.
  • If the storm has hit but you can get somewhere safer within a few seconds, do it. Otherwise, follow instructions for being outdoors.

In the open outdoors

There is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm. All you can do is slightly reduce your risk of being struck.

If you can't reach a safe building or vehicle, find the safest location you can before the storm is within 10 miles of you:

  • Avoid high ground, ridges, and peaks. Seek lower ground. A dry ravine or big drop in the terrain offers some protection (if it's not prone to flooding).
  • Get away from lone trees, picnic shelters, tents, golf carts, and other tall or metal objects. These attract lightning, and people within 100 yards have a higher chance of being struck directly or indirectly.
  • Avoid large open fields or open spaces of 100 yards or more where you are the tallest object.
  • If you're in a small open boat without a cabin, or if you're swimming, get to land immediately.
  • Avoid long conductors like metal fences, utility lines, metal railings or bridges, railroads, and wet ropes.
  • Don't stand in water (though wet ground is fine).
  • Don't stand in or near cave entrances. You may be safer deep inside a cave if you avoid water, metal, and general caving hazards. But you're safer outside at a distance than you are at the cave entrance. (Being within 50 yards of a tall cliff face may help you.)
  • Find a stand of low trees or tall bushes, trying to stay 50 feet from any one object.
  • Wait -- aren't trees dangerous in a storm? Yes, being near a single tree puts you at risk of indirect strike because that single object is highly likely to be struck. But in a stand of roughly equal trees, the odds drop that any particular tree will be the one struck. You're absolutely still at risk -- but you are safer than in an open field or near a single tall tree.

When you're in the safest place you can find, or the storm is within 10 miles, then make yourself as safe as you can:

  • Group members should spread to 50 feet apart.
  • Discard all metal: crampons; cleats; jewelry; buckles; walking poles; framed backpacks; knives, coins, and keys.
  • If you have insulation like a foam pad or dry, metal-free bag of clothes, put it underneath you.
  • Get into the lightning crouch: Squat or sit in a tight ball, arms wrapped around your legs. Keep your feet together (touching), head lowered, ears covered, and eyes closed. This makes you as small a target as possible.
  • Do NOT lie down. This makes you a lower target, but a much wider one. Crouching is safer.

If you notice hair standing on end, skin tingling, light metal objects vibrating, or odd crackling sounds, lightning is seconds away. Unless you are literally two seconds from a safe place, drop immediately into the lightning crouch -- it's your last resort and can help minimize injury.

For more (yes, there's more!) information and tips, visit:

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