With the arrival of warm weather, many of us flock outdoors to soak up the sunshine and stretch our legs. But while the weather may feel perfect now, there’s a chance a thunderstorm can pop up on the radar and threaten to shut down the summer fun.
Taking lightning seriously is essential — don’t blow it off to squeeze in another hole of golf. Here’s an overview of exactly what to do if you see a thunderstorm approaching:
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Essential Thunderstorm Safety Tips
- If a storm hits, take shelter inside a safe building or vehicle with both a roof and sides.
- When you’re inside, avoid electrical equipment, corded phones (cell phones and cordless phones are safe), plumbing, windows, and doors.
- Wait 30 minutes after that last rumble of thunder to head back outside.
- If you can’t find shelter, avoid open, elevated areas. Find lower ground.
- Solitary trees and objects can attract lighting — so steer clear.
- Remember, water and metals are conductors of electricity.
- Don’t stand or huddle in groups. It’s possible for electric currents to pass between people.
Why These Tips Are Important
Taking shelter in a building or a completely enclosed vehicle is a common thunderstorm safety tip mainly because the materials used to make them are resistant to electricity. Unlike the human body, the surfaces of buildings and cars do not conduct but instead deflect or absorb lightning.
Avoiding electrical equipment and plumbing while inside is advisable because current in the electricity from lightning can interact with it and still reach you if you touch it.
Waiting for 30 minutes after the last time you hear thunder is also always a good idea. The end of a sustained series of thunderclaps doesn’t always mean the storm is over. Storms don’t always move right along in a straight line, so the possibility that further lightning may strike in your area can linger within that window.
Staying away from open areas if you can’t find an enclosed space is critical because the human body conducts electricity. When lightning strikes, it becomes attracted to the nearest conductor — so the highest, given that it’s coming from the sky. If you are standing in an open field or anywhere else where you are the tallest thing, you run a higher risk of attracting a lightning strike.
The same idea applies to standing too close to other tall, isolated objects that can serve as conductors. For example, a current of electricity from a lightning strike can travel through a tree or a telephone pole into someone who is pressing up against it for protection.
Water and metals are conductors, as well, so if you’re in a swimming pool and you hear thunder, get out immediately. Avoid direct contact with any metal objects. This does not include getting inside a car, where there are layers of insulating materials between you and the car’s metal exterior.
Finally, other people are conductors, too — just as you are. If you’re touching a person who is struck by lightning, the electricity will travel through the other person and reach you as well.
If you find yourself in a situation that makes practicing any of these tips impossible, there are still measures you can take. Even in worst-case scenarios, crouching as low to the ground as possible can reduce your ability to attract lightning.
You should also cover your ears, in this case. If lightning is close enough to strike you, the thunder can get loud enough to cause hearing damage.
Other Storm Facts to Know
Depending on where you live, practicing thunderstorm safety may prove necessary very frequently, almost never at all, or anywhere in between. U.S. residents who live in southeastern states tend to encounter thunderstorms most often. For example, the average resident of Florida can expect to encounter thunderstorms on anywhere from 80 to 105 days per year.
There has been an average of 28 deaths from lightning strikes per year in the United States between 2006 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though it may not seem like many at first glance, it still adds up to 448 deaths over 16 years.
It is common enough to support the argument that thunderstorm safety should never be an afterthought.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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