How to survive a lightning strike or, better yet, avoid one
But those are small groups considering the national population of more than 300 million and there are more than 25 million lightning strikes in the United States a year, according to the weather service. It should also be noted that 90% of lightning victims survive.
Still, here are a few things you can do to reduce your chances.
“When the thunder rolls, come inside”
The National Weather Service has a simple but effective slogan: “When the thunder rolls, come inside.”
As soon as you hear thunder, see lightning, or the sky looks threatening, you need to get inside as quickly as possible.
“The most important thing is that you are safe inside a large building or fully enclosed vehicle with a metal roof,” Ron Holle, meteorologist and lightning safety specialist at National Lightning, told CNN. Safety Council. “Anywhere outside of these two places is not safe.”
A significant building means a structure with proper wiring and plumbing, Holle explained. Tents, cabins, canoes and picnic shelters are not immune to lightning.
This is because when lightning strikes a home or other building, it travels through the plumbing and wiring to grounded rods that safely channel all that electricity into the ground. A tent or small shelter does not offer such protection.
If you hear thunder while camping or at the beach, without access to a large building, you should immediately take refuge in your vehicle.
You must wait 30 minutes from the last time you heard thunder to leave the vehicle, according to the weather service.
Cyclists or motorcyclists who hear thunder should stop in a safe building and also wait until 30 minutes have passed since the last rumble.
Avoid lightning indoors
OK, so you heard thunder and entered an appropriate building. Good news: “You’re infinitely safer inside than outside,” Holle said.
The next step is to close windows and avoid using corded electrical appliances, according to the National Weather Service.
“You don’t want to be tied down to wiring and plumbing, like holding a corded phone or holding an appliance when lightning strikes the house,” Holle explained. “Having your hands tied to running water in the sink or tub” also poses a risk, he said.
You should also stay away from balconies, porches, garages, windows and doors leading to the outside, according to the weather service.
And if the outdoors isn’t safe for humans during a storm, it’s also not safe for pets. Take your pets inside as soon as possible when you hear thunder, according to the weather service. Doghouses don’t offer lightning protection, and dogs tied to trees are particularly at risk, according to the agency.
Save the boat trip for another day
Most large boats with cabins are fairly safe during a thunderstorm, according to the Weather Service. Small cabinless boats are another story.
“The vast majority of boat-related lightning injuries and fatalities occur on small boats without cabins,” the weather service says. “It is crucial to listen to weather information when you are sailing.”
The service advises people not to boat when thunderstorms are forecast. If you hear thunder while on the water, you should return to shore as quickly as possible – and ideally move at least 100 meters from shore.
If you can’t make it to shore, you should drop anchor, go as low as possible, and stay inside the cabin – and stay away from any metal surfaces, like the radio you could have used to track the weather in the first place.
But if you’re not on the boat – or if the boat doesn’t have a cabin – it’s better to stay in deep water during the storm than to get back on board, according to the weather agency.
A last resort: stay safe outside
A key lightning avoidance strategy is awareness and planning.
Read the weather forecast and know if thunderstorms are expected in the places you are going to go. Plan your schedule to avoid being outdoors when thunderstorms are expected. Professional lightning detection equipment can also be used to alert when lightning is approaching.
“If you’re outdoors, you’re very vulnerable to lightning,” Holle said.
If it’s not possible to get inside, there are still a few things that can slightly lower your risk.
In a thunderstorm, avoid open fields, hilltops or ridge tops, the weather service says. Likewise, you should stay away from tall, isolated objects like trees and leave any body of water immediately. Of course, you’ll also want to avoid any wet or metallic objects that might conduct electricity.
Low areas like valleys and ravines are a safer bet. If you’re in a group, spread out to prevent any current from flowing between people, the weather service says. And don’t lie flat on the floor.
Still, Holle noted that the evidence for many of these lightning avoidance strategies is still unclear.
The most important thing is to get inside: Almost all lightning fatalities in the United States in recent decades have occurred outdoors, he said.
Lightning strikes around the world
“Most people in the United States have a lightning-safe building or vehicle nearby, and they just need to drive there,” Holle said. “This is not the case for millions of people around the world.”
They advocate for better lightning safety education and the installation of functional lightning protection systems for schools and other buildings.
Survive a thunderbolt
Although the vast majority of lightning victims survive, the effects can be severe and long-lasting.
Survivors suffered debilitating injuries, burns and continued disability, including symptoms such as seizures and memory loss.
If someone around you is struck by lightning, call 911 immediately, the National Weather Service says.