Whether you’re playing on a golf course, fishing off a boat, sitting on a beach or strolling through a park, it’s not only inconvenient but also downright dangerous to get caught outside in a thunderstorm. And considering that all thunderstorms produce lightning, which can reach temperatures of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s no wonder that thunder and lightning rank high among people’s most common fears.
While the odds of getting struck and killed by lightning are relatively slim, with several dozen fatalities occurring in the U.S. annually, hundreds of people are struck and severely injured by lightning every year in our country, reports the National Weather Service (NWS). To help you increase your safety during a thunderstorm, take cover with these precautions from the experts at the NWS.
Seek safe shelter. At the first rumble of thunder, lightning is present in the area—even if no rain is falling and there are blue skies overhead (there’s reason for the familiar phrase “a bolt from the blue”). So, seek immediate shelter such as a sturdy building or an enclosed metal-topped vehicle (it’s not the vehicle’s rubber tires that protect you but the metal frame through which the lightning travels and goes into the ground). Heed the mantra “When thunder roars, go indoors.” Remain indoors for at least a half-hour after you hear the last echo of thunder.
Avoid contact with objects that are electrical conductors. When indoors, avoid plumbing (sinks, faucets, showers, etc.), and don’t use electrical equipment and appliances such as computers, stoves and corded phones. Stay away from windows and doors, too, and remember that it’s not safe to watch a thunderstorm from a porch.
Keep away from hazardous areas. If you’re stuck outside, reduce your risk by staying off elevated areas (hills, ridges, etc.) and steering clear of bodies of water. Also, don’t take refuge under a rocky overhang or an isolated tree; in fact, being under a tree during a thunderstorm is a leading cause of lightning casualties.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The NWS no longer recommends merely crouching or squatting if you’re caught outdoors during a thunderstorm because the position doesn’t provide significant protection and gives people a false sense of security. Also, don’t lie flat on the ground since lying flat will increase your risk of being injured by ground current. Height, pointy shape and isolation are the major factors impacting where lightning will strike. Instead of staying put, seek safe shelter.
Of course, the best way to stay safe is to avoid getting caught in a thunderstorm in the first place. So, monitor weather forecasts, have a plan for reaching a safe shelter, and take action when a thunderstorm looms.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of AAA World.