How to Avoid Lightning Strikes

Steps to Keep You Safe From Thunderstorms

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the 10-year average for deaths due to lightning is 25 people, making these flashes of electricity more deadly than hurricanes. Between 2010 and 2019, hurricanes caused about 5 deaths per year on average. Floods and tornadoes were responsible for more deaths across the same 10-year period, killing about 99 and 91 people every year.

Lightning bolts over south Okanagan Valley, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.
Image Source / Preserved Light Photography / Getty Images

Lightning Facts from the NWS:

  • Lightning can heat its path five times hotter than the surface of the sun
  • About 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year
  • There are about 100 lightning strikes around the world in any given second
  • One ground lightning stroke can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity
  • One lightning strike could light a 100 watt light bulb for 3 months

Knowing where to go when thunderstorms approach is the best defense against lightning.

Steps

  1. Follow the 30/30 rule. Count the seconds after a lightning flash. If you hear thunder within 30 seconds, seek safe shelter (see step 2). Do not go outside again until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike. More than half of lightning-related deaths happen after the thunderstorm has passed. The danger exists whenever thunderstorms are in the area, even when clear skies are directly overhead.
  2. Only use safe shelters. Full-size buildings, such as houses or businesses, work best. Stay away from sheds or open shelters (picnic awnings or baseball dugouts). Hard-top cars, vans, and trucks work well, but not golf carts, soft-top convertibles (even with the top up), bicycles, or motorcycles. Whether in a building or a car, keep all windows and doors closed.
  3. While inside, avoid anything that conducts electricity and is plugged into a wall socket -- phones, electrical outlets, lights, desktop computers, televisions, stereos, and water faucets (metal plumbing conducts electricity) are just some of the items to avoid. Portable devices such as wireless phones (stay away from the base station that's plugged into the wall), flashlights, unplugged laptop computers, and personal MP3 players are all fine. Avoid metal door or window frames.
  4. If you're caught outside, go inside immediately. No safe options exist outside. Run to your car or a safe building as soon as you hear thunder.
  5. Lightning can and does strike in the same place twice -- hundreds of times, really. Conditions that draw lightning aren't likely to change. If lightning strikes close to you, do not assume you are safe until the storm passes. See Step 1.
  6. If you are struck by lightning, call 911 immediately. If you see someone struck by lightning, call 911 and treat any injuries as appropriate. Follow the same basic first aid steps as for any other victim. Expect to see burns, and if the victim is not breathing, begin CPR immediately. There's no reason to avoid treating the victim; victims are not charged with electricity and are completely safe to touch.
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Article Sources
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  1. National Weather Service. Weather fatalities 2019.

  2. National Weather Service. NWS Melbourne lightning facts and trivia.

Additional Reading