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Want more Lightning Safety information? NOAA Lightning Safety Brochure
 

Lightning is the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazard that most physically active people face each year. According to the latest research, there are approximately 25 million lightning flashes in the United States each year resulting in an average of 58 deaths and an additional documented 300 injuries. While it appears that the number of overall deaths from lightning strikes is decreasing, trends show that the number of injuries continues to rise. And lightning casualties during sports and recreational activities have risen alarmingly in recent decades.

Most of the incidents occur between May and September, and nearly four fifths occur between 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM. Lightning strike casualties occur most often on Sunday and Saturday, respectively, which coincides with the time more people are physically active outdoors.

How to protect yourself
Always check the weather conditions before you head outside. The heat of summer is prime for lightning, and you should be aware of any storms in your area or conditions that are right for the development of thunderstorms. If you are outside you should plan ahead and prepare a lightning safety plan. Know where your nearest shelter is and how long it will take you to get there.

Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining. That's about the distance you can hear thunder.  If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately. WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO INDOORS! Wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before you go back outside.


Lightning Safety Recommendations

  • Check the forecast and watch the sky
    Before heading out, check your local forecast. While outside look for darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing wind, which may be signs of an approaching thunderstorm. Consider postponing outdoor activities to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
     
  • When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors
    If you hear thunder, even a distant rumble, immediately move to a safe place. 
     
  • Finding a safe shelter
    Fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing provide the best protection.  Sheds, picnic shelters, tents or covered porches do NOT protect you from lightning.  If a sturdy building is not nearby, get into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the window.  If you are in a wooded area with no shelter available, seek shelter under a thick growth of relatively small trees.
    Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
     
  • Avoid
    Isolated trees or other tall objects. Never take shelter under a tree. Also avoid bodies of water, sheds, fences, convertibles, tractors, bikes and motorcycles. Avoid leaning against vehicles, and get off and away from bicycles and motorcycles.

     
  • Don't wait for rain to seek shelter
    Many people take shelter from the rain, but most people struck by lightning are not in the rain. Go quickly inside a completely enclosed building, not a carport, open garage or covered patio. If no enclosed building is convenient, get inside a hard-topped all-metal vehicle.
     
  • Get out of the water
    Water is a great conductor of electricity. stay off the beach and out of small boats or canoes. If caught in a boat, crouch down in the center of the boat away from metal hardware. Swimming, wading, snorkeling and scuba diving are NOT safe. Lightning can strike the water and travel some distance beneath and away from its point of contact. Don't stand in puddles of water, even if wearing rubber boots.
     
  • Avoid any metal objects
    Drop metal backpacks, stay away from clothes lines, fences, exposed sheds and electrically conductive elevated objects. Don't hold on to metal items such golf clubs, fishing rods, tennis rackets or tools.
     
  • Do NOT stay in a group
    Stay several yards away from other people. Don't share a bleacher bench or huddle in a group.
     
  • Indoor safety during a thunderstorm
    If you hear thunder, don't use a corded phone except in an emergency.  Cordless phones and cell phones are safe to use.  Keep away from electrical equipment and wiring. Water pipes conduct electricity: do not take a shower or bath or use other plumbing during a thunderstorm.
     

Lightning Safety in the Mountains
According to the Colorado Lightning Resource Center, "It is a hard fact that there is NO safe place in the high country to be during a lightning activity. There is nothing you can do to guarantee safety if you are caught hiking in the mountains during a lighting storm." Their advice is to try to plan hikes and climbs early and get off mountain peaks by 11:00 am. If you are caught in an approaching storm, quickly get below treeline and get into a grove of small trees.

In the mountains there are accounts of people being injured and killed while hiding in caves, under rocks, in tents and under trees. Putting a rubber mat under you to avoid being struck by lightning is an old wives tale. The only thing one can do if caught in the open while hiking in the high country is to get in the lightning-safe position and wait the storm out.

First Aide for Lightning Strikes

  • Call for help.
    Call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service. Get medical attention as quickly as possible.
  • Give first aid.
    If the victim has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR. Use an Automatic External Defibrillator if one is available.  If the person has a pulse and is breathing, address any other injuries.
  • Check for burns in two places.
    The injured person has received an electric shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body. Being struck by lightning can also cause nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing or eyesight. People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can not shock other people.