Thunderstorms pose major threats to human health and property. Lightning is a byproduct of thunderstorms. Although few people are killed by lightning, it is still one of the leading causes of storm-related deaths in America. 29 people were killed and 182 injured by lightning during 2010. Most people survive lighting strikes, but they often struggle with life-long health problems.
Thunderstorms often contribute to flash flooding, dangerous hail, heavy winds, and tornadoes. Flash flooding contributes to most thunder-related deaths, over 140 each year. Rainless dry thunderstorms are very common throughout the western United States. During dry thunderstorms, rain evaporates in the air, but lightning hitting the ground often creates wildfires.
What to Do Before Thunderstorm and Lightning
Take the following steps to be prepared for thunderstorms:
- Develop a family communications plan and amass an emergency preparedness kit.
- Remove rotting trees or dead branches posing fall and other safety hazards during a thunderstorm.
- Delay outdoor plans.
- Adhere to the 30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: stay indoors if lightning is visible and strikes multiple times in less than 30 seconds prior to any thunder. Remain inside for a half hour after hearing any thunder.
- Place outdoor objects in a garage or shed that could create damage or blow away.
- Go inside a building or covered vehicle. It’s possible to be injured by lightning while sitting in a car, but these injuries are less severe than those sustained outside.
- Rubber tires and rubber shoes do not provide protection during a lightning storm, but you can be protected while sitting in a covered car.
- Place shutters on windows and close outside doors. If you do not own shutters, close all curtains, shades, or blinds.
- Unplug electronic devices prior to the storm.
Lightning Safety When Outdoors
- If you’re in a forest seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
- If you’re in an open area go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.
- If you’re in open water get to land and find shelter immediately.
- If you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike) squate low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.
Facts about Thunderstorms and Lightning
- They frequently occur in lines, clusters, or individually.
- Some of the worst storms occur when an individual storm affects one area for long periods of time.
- Thunderstorms usually create brief heavy rain, typically between a half hour to a hour.
- Thunderstorms frequently develop in humid and warm temperatures.
- Nearly 10 percent of thunderstorms are considered severe – a storm producing large chunks of hail and winds exceeding 50 miles per hour
- Unpredictable lightning poses major risks to property and people.
- Lightning strikes frequently occur 10 miles from rainfall.
- “Heat lightning” is a phenomenon occurring when lightning remains silent since it’s far away from thunder. Remain cautious since the storm could be moving towards you.
- Lightning deaths and injuries typically occur when individuals get caught outside during evening and afternoon summer storms.
- The odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 600,000 but this number is dramatically increased by adhering to safety procedures.
- Electrical charge does not remain in the body after lightning strikes, but victims should seek medical attention immediately.
What to Do During Thunderstorms and Lightning
Follow these precautions if lighting or thunderstorms hit your region:
- Listen to NOAA Weather radio broadcasts for local updates.
- Only use corded phones for medical emergencies. If possible, use a cell or cordless phone.
- Do not touch electrical cords or devices. Unplug electronic devices and large appliances, including air conditioners and TVs. Electrical devices are often damaged by power surges caused by lightning.
- Avoid using plumbing equipment. Refrain from taking a shower, washing hands and dishes, and washing clothes. Plumbing fixtures and other plumbing equipment conducts electricity.
- Do not sit on the porch and stay clear of doors and windows.
- Refrain from laying on concrete floors or leaning on concrete walls.
- Avoid natural objects that attract lightning, such as tree branches in open areas.
- Stay off the beach, water, open fields, and hilltops.
- Wait the storm out in a sturdy building. Stay out of small buildings or sheds in open areas.
- Do not touch anything containing metal, such as bikes, golf clubs and carts, tractors, and lawnmowers.
- If driving, safely exit the highway or pull over. Use emergency flashers and wait the storm out until rainfall ceases. Do not touch metal or other objects in your vehicle that conduct electricity.
What to Do After a Thunderstorm or Lightning Strike
Call 911 immediately if struck by lightning. Check the following vital signs while administering CPR to a person struck by lightning:
- Breathing – if breathing has ceased, administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
- Heartbeat – if a heartbeat is not detected, administer CPR.
- Pulse – When victims are breathing and a heartbeat is present, check them for other injuries, including burns since lightning can cause severe burns, vision and hearing problems, and damage to the nervous system.
After the storm passes remember to:
- Avoid flooded road. Turn around immediately since it’s impossible to know the water depth.
- Steer clear of storm-damaged regions since remaining in these areas increases injury risks.
- Remain updated about weather changes and road closures by listening to NOAA Weather Radio or local TV and radio broadcasts.
- Assist people with special needs, including the elderly, infants, and the disabled.
- Avoid damaged power lines and report any downed line sightings ASAP.
- Keep a close eye on pets and maintain direct control over them.
Last update 2020-10-22. Price and product availability may change.