Electrical storms are one of the deadliest and most widespread weather occurrences in the world, but by understanding proper lightning storm safety, no one needs to worry about thunderstorm hazards.
About Lightning Storms
Lightning storms are any storm that includes lightning bolts, typically accompanied by thunder and rain, but not always. Lightning is an electrical discharge between the ground and the clouds that results from an imbalance of charges; the lightning strike is how those charges are rebalanced. Florida is considered the "Lightning Capital of the World" because it has the highest number of lightning strikes of any geographic location, due in part to the humidity of the state that contributes to electrical buildup in the atmosphere.
Every part of the world experiences thunderstorms and lightning strikes, but the upside of that regularity is that more than 90 percent of individuals who are struck by lightning survive the strike, many of them without lasting damage. At the same time, however, lightning can be fatal or cause severe burns, neurological trauma and other complications, and understanding storm safety is the first step toward avoiding tragedies.
Lightning Storm Safety Tips
Practicing good safety habits during even the mildest lightning storm is the key to minimizing risks, but safety precautions are different whether individuals are indoors or outdoors.
The safest place to be during a lightning storm is inside a relatively large, fully enclosed building (not a small shed or an open garage, for example). If lightning does strike the building, the charge will be carried through pipes and wiring into the ground, well away from the inhabitants. When indoors, follow these lightning storm safety tips:
- Do not use telephones, headphones or electrical appliances during the storm - lightning can travel through the wires and produce shocks to anyone using them. Note: Cell phones are safe to use during lightning storms because they are not physically connected to the wires.
- Unplug expensive electronic devices (televisions, computers, stereos, etc.) to help protect them.
- Do not take a bath, shower or do dishes during a lightning storm, because water is a conductor and charges can be carried through metal pipes.
- Stay away from windows, doors and exterior walls if at all possible.
- Keep windows and doors closed during the storm.
- Stay inside for 30 minutes after the last lightning strikes to ensure the storm has fully passed.
It is important to note that there are no fully safe outdoor locations during lightning storms - the safest place to be is inside an enclosed building. If such shelter is not available, however, these lightning safety tips can help minimize dangers:
- Avoid bodies of water, open areas, high ground, tall objects such as trees or light poles, and any metal objects such as fences, wires, metal sheds, golf clubs, bikes, or construction equipment.
- Avoid small shelters and pavilions in open areas that may attract lightning strikes.
- Do not find shelter under trees, or if necessary, choose the smallest trees in the area.
- When lightning is in the immediate area, crouch down with feet close together and head down to present the smallest possible attraction to strikes. Do not lie down, as this will increase the area for lightning to hit.
- Stay at least 15 feet away from other individuals in the area to prevent bolts from jumping from person to person.
- Cover your ears to minimize potential hearing damage from the accompanying thunderclap.
- If driving, pull off the road to avoid being blinded or startled by lightning strikes, and stay in your vehicle with the windows and doors closed.
When Someone is Struck
Individuals struck by lightning often lose consciousness, and knowing how to react to a lightning strike can help save lives. After a person has been struck, no electrical charge will remain in their bodies and they can be safely handled without spreading the shock to others. The intense electrical shock can stop a person's heart, and proper CPR may be critical until emergency help arrives. Contact emergency services immediately, and offer what first aid treatment (CPR, burn relief, etc.) is available.
Other Protection Tips
The best way to practice storm safety is to avoid being outdoors or in other unsafe locations when storms are imminent. Because most thunderstorms occur in the summer (July is the peak month), it can be difficult to avoid outdoor activities, but these tips can help:
- Always check the weather forecast when scheduling picnics, camping and other outdoor events.
- Know where the nearest buildings are for shelter if a storm arrives.
- Recognize the signs of potential storms, such as dark cumulonimbus clouds, distant thunder and sudden temperature drops, and seek shelter as soon as those signs are present.
At home, there are other ways to protect against lightning injuries and damage:
- Be sure all the home's electrical wiring is up to date.
- Use surge protectors on all appliances and expensive electrical equipment.
- Prune tall trees away from buildings to minimize lightning hazards.
- Investigate lightning insurance coverage or purchase additional insurance riders for full coverage.
- Keep metal toys and tools inside when not in use.
Lightning can strike many miles ahead of a storm, and the best lightning storm safety is to be aware of the hazards and seek safe shelter immediately. By knowing how to react in a lightning storm, it is possible to avoid many risks and hazards that can lead to serious electrical injuries.