Lightning may be one of the most beautiful phenomena that nature puts on display, but it is also one of the most dangerous.
Summer is peak lightning season, and once again the American Red Cross is joining with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other partners to observe National Lightning Safety Awareness Week. The campaign, which takes place this year from June 24 through June 30, is designed to lower lightning death and injury rates and dispel many common myths about lightning.
According to NOAA, lightning is the second most frequent weather-related killer in the United States, causing an average of nearly 100 deaths and 500 injuries each year. Yet, because lightning affects only one or a few people at a time and does not cause widespread destruction, many underestimate the severe risks it poses.
Know the Facts
Lightning is the most common weather hazard many people experience each year, yet myths about lightning abound. Don’t be fooled by familiar folklore about lightning—learn exactly what you can do when storms develop and lightning strikes.
Myth: Go under a tree or other tall object to wait out a storm and stay dry.
Taking cover under trees is the second leading cause of lightning casualties, the National Weather Service reports. While no place is absolutely safe from lightning, some are much safer than others. The best place to be during a thunderstorm is in a large, enclosed building. Avoid partially enclosed structures such as carports, picnic shelters and sheds.
Once inside, unplug all unnecessary appliances and avoid using the telephone and other electrical devices, since electricity from a lightning strike can travel through electrical wiring. Avoid taking a bath or shower during a thunderstorm as well.
Myth: If it’s not raining and clouds aren’t directly overhead, you are safe from lightning.
Just because you are far away from the rain or the thunderstorm cloud, you can still be affected. Lightning can (and often does) strike up to ten miles from a thunderstorm. Although rare, lightning can travel horizontally for many miles and strike the ground far away from the storm cloud. These bolts seem to come out of a clear blue sky and are thus called “bolts from the blue.”
The best general rule to follow to avoid lightning strikes is to practice the 30/30 lightning safety rule. If, after seeing lightning, you can’t count to 30 before hearing the thunder, go indoors. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
Myth: If you touch a person who has been struck by lightning, you will be electrocuted as well.
The human body does not store electricity, so it is perfectly safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning. You cannot be electrocuted when administering first aid or CPR to a lightning-strike victim.
The American Red Cross offers CPR and first aid courses that will provide you with the confidence and skills to respond in an emergency situation and maybe even save a life. For more information or to find a class, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
Myth: If you are trapped outside during a thunderstorm, lie flat on the ground.
Laying flat on the ground actually increases your chances of being struck by lightning, because the electrical current can run along the ground. If you get stuck outside during a thunderstorm and cannot reach a safe shelter, get as low as you can and touch the ground as little as possible. Keeping your feet together, squat low, tuck your head and cover your ears.
If you absolutely cannot get to a safe building or vehicle, follow these tips as a last resort:
- Do not seek shelter under partially enclosed buildings.
- Should a thunderstorm plague your camp site, set up camp in a lower area and stay away from tall, isolated trees.
- Wet ropes are excellent conductors of electricity. When mountain or rock climbing, be sure to remove any unnecessary ropes that may be attached to you.
- Stay away from metal objects such as fences and poles. Metal is a conductor, and the current from a lightning flash can travel across metal for long distances.
- Stay at least 15 feet away from other people so the current won’t travel from person to person should lightning strike.
In addition to following these tips, be aware of the local weather forecast before heading out for extended periods of time and use common sense to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved ones. Remember: “When thunder roars, stay indoors!”
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.