You may love Mother Nature, but during a thunderstorm, a sturdy building is your best friend. When you hear thunder, you're at risk. This is true even if you haven't seen any other evidence of a storm. Every year in the U.S., dozens of people are killed by lightning and hundreds are injured. Most are caught outside and don't find or seek safety soon enough.
Let's take a look at five things you can do to protect yourself from the destructive potential of a thunderstorm.
Get Out of the Open
Lightning usually strikes the tallest object nearby. If you or a loved one happen to be the tallest thing around, that means big trouble. Find a low-lying area, a building or hard-topped metal vehicle until the storm passes. Don't wait to seek cover. As soon as you hear thunder, get moving. The biggest threat to your life is a false sense of security. Weather has enormous destructive potential. Don't take your safety for granted.
Meteorology may not be your hobby, but it still pays to stay informed about the weather. National Weather Service broadcasts announce severe thunderstorm watches and warnings for counties across the nation. Your local news, weather and even entertainment stations will keep you updated on these important changes via screen crawls and special cut-ins.
Don't leave it at that, though. Watch the sky. Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings are issued when damaging wind or hail is possible; lightning is always part of a thunderstorm. A dark sky and a brisk wind can be signs of an approaching storm. You can also help yourself stay prepared by having a battery-operated weather radio on hand for emergencies. When a thunderstorm is imminent or even suspected, get everyone indoors immediately. It's your best protection.
Have a Plan
Although thunderstorms can strike any time of year, they occur most frequently in summer during the afternoon and evening hours. This can be a time when you're planning outdoor family activities. Be prepared for the unexpected by teaching your family about the importance of finding shelter immediately, and when that's unavailable, finding a low-lying spot to take cover. Locating a covered picnic area or sheltering in a tent isn't enough protection. You need to find a sturdy building with a solid foundation.
Avoid Tall Objects and Metal Conductors
Because lightning will usually strike a tall object, if you happen to be standing near or under such an object, you can be injured, too. Avoid tall trees, power poles and even high fence posts if they're the tallest thing around. You should also steer clear of metal fences, like chain-link fences. Even though they don't attract lightning, they make a great conductor, so hands off.
Keep in mind, if you're carrying an umbrella, you may inadvertently become the tallest object in the area. They're great for rain showers, but you'd be well-advised to take them down in a thunderstorm.
Know the Facts
There are a lot of myths about thunderstorms and lightning. It's important for you to understand the facts before you make a bad judgment call:
- Rubber-soled shoes won't protect you from lightning.
- If someone has been struck by lightning, he will not carry a residual charge. So, it's safe to help without putting yourself at risk.
- A lightning ground strike can travel through a telephone land-line and injure someone indoors. It happens every year somewhere in the U.S. Cell phones are safe, though.
- What's true for phone lines is true for plumbing, so stay out of the tub or shower until the thunderstorm's passed by.
- Sheds, porches and tents provide no protection from lightning. If you're standing on the porch watching nature's light show, go back indoors.
- Rubber car tires will not protect you from lightning. The car's steel frame and top may, though. Just avoid touching any of the metal parts inside the vehicle.
The fire under the tiny town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, has been burning since at least 1962 and, to this day, nobody knows how to put it out.
- FEMA. "Lightning Safety by Sabrina." Undated. 7/25/10.http://www.fema.gov/kids/sabrina.htm
- National Weather Service. "Lightning Safety." Undated. 7/25/10.http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/
- National Weather Service. "Lightning: What You Need to Know." Undated. 7/25/10.http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/resources/Lightning_What_you_Need_to_Know.pdf
- NOAA. "Thunderstorm, Tornados, Lightning." Undated. 7/24/10.http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/severeweather/resources/ttl6-10.pdf
- NOAA. "Weather Safety: Lightning." Undated. 7/25/10.http://www.weather.gov/os/lightning/resources/lightning-safety.pdf
- University of Florida Extension. "Lightning Safety." 2008. 7/25/10.http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/lightning_safety.html
- Weather.com. "Driving Tips: Severe Thunderstorms and Lightning." Undated 7/25/10.http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafety/drivingsafetytips/thunder.html