Lightning: The Underated Weather Hazard
By William P. Roeder, 45 WS/SYR Patrick Air Force Base, Florida
Lightning is the #2 storm killer in the U.S., killing more than
hurricanes or tornadoes on average. Only floods kill more. But the real
story of lightning isn't the deaths, it's the injuries. Only about 10%
of those struck are killed; 90% survive. But of the survivors, many suffer
life-long severe injury and disability. These injuries are primarily neurological,
with a wide range of symptoms, and are sometimes difficult to diagnose.
Lightning also causes about $5 billion of economic loss each year in the
Public education is the key! The vast majority of lightning
casualties can be easily, quickly, and cheaply avoided, if the proper
rules are followed. People need increased awareness of the lightning hazard
and knowledge of lightning safety.
Lightning safety involves several easy steps that anyone can do. While
lightning safety can be inconvenient, consider how inconvenient the
alternative of not following these simple rules could be! Adults are
ALWAYS responsible for the safety of children under their care; this
includes lightning safety. Remember:
No Place Outside is Safe During Thunderstorms!
Even though no lightning safety guidelines will give 100% guaranteed
total safety, the following steps will help you avoid the vast majority
of lightning casualties.
If you are planning to be outside, watch the weather forecast
beforehand. Know your local weather patterns. Plan around the
weather to avoid the lightning hazard.
If you are going to be outside anyway, stay near proper shelter
and use the ?30-30 Rule' to know when to seek proper shelter.n
When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder.
If this time is 30 seconds or less, seek proper shelter.
If you can't see the lightning, just hearing the thunder is a
good back-up rule. Wait 30 minutes or more after hearing
the last thunder before leaving shelter.den
Also keep your eyes on the skies for clues that thunderstorms
may be developing: increasing, thickening, and darkening clouds,
especially with deep vertical extent; increasing rain, and increasing
wind. If the developing storm is nearby, seek shelter even before
the first lightning flash.
Seek proper shelter when required. Don't hesitate, seek shelter
immediately. The lightning casualty stories are replete with events
where people were about to make it to shelter when they were struck.
If they'd just started a minute earlier, they'd have been safe.
The best shelter commonly available against lightning is a large
fully enclosed substantially constructed building, e.g. your typical
house, school, library, or other public building. Substantially
constructed means it has wiring and plumbing in the walls.
Once inside, stay away from any conducting path to the outside.
Stay off the corded telephone. Stay away from electrical appliances,
lighting, and electric sockets. Stay away from plumbing. Don't
watch lightning from windows or doorways. Inner rooms are generally
If you can't get to a substantial building, a vehicle with a
solid metal roof and metal sides is a reasonable second choice.
As with a building, avoid contact with conducting paths going
outside: close the windows, lean away from the door, put your
hands in your lap, don't touch the steering wheel, ignition, gear
shifter, or radio. Convertibles, cars with fiberglass or plastic
shells, and open framed vehicles don't count as lightning shelters.
Cars are safe because the rubber tires insulate them from the
Cars are safe because of their metal shell.
If you can't get to proper lightning shelter, at least avoid
the most dangerous locations and activities.
- Avoid higher elevations
- Avoid wide-open areas, including sports fields and beaches
- Avoid tall isolated objects like trees, poles, and light posts.
- Avoid water-related activities: boating, swimming (includes
indoor pools), and fishing.
- Avoid golfing.
- Avoid open vehicles like open farm tractors, open construction
vehicles, riding lawnmowers, and golf carts (even with roofs)
- Avoid unprotected open buildings like picnic pavilions, rain
shelters, and bus stops
- Avoid metal fences and metal bleachers.
DO NOT GO UNDER TREES TO KEEP DRY DURING THUNDERSTORMS!
The Lightning Crouch: Use this only as a last, desperate measure!!
If you've made several bad decisions and are outside far away
from proper shelter when lightning threatens, proceed to the safest
location. Get off the higher elevations, get out of the open fields,
get away from tall isolated objects, and get away from water.
If lightning is imminent, it will sometimes give a very few seconds
of warning. Sometimes your hair will stand-up on end, or your
skin will tingle, or light metal objects will vibrate, or you'll
hear a crackling or "kee-kee" sound. If this happens and you're
in a group, spread out so there are several body lengths between
each person. If one person is struck, the others may not be hit
and can give first aid. Once you've spread out, use the lightning
crouch; put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head, and
cover your ears. When the immediate threat of lightning has passed,
continue heading to the safest spot possible.
Remember, this is a desperate last resort; you are much safer
if you follow the previous steps and not gotten into this high-risk
Lightning First Aid:
- All deaths from lightning are from cardiac arrest and stopped
breathing at the time of the strike. CPR and mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation
are the recommended first aid, respectively.
- If you are still in an active thunderstorm and at continuing
risk to yourself, consider moving the victim and yourself to
a safer location.Hidden Spacer
Lightning victims are electrified. If you touch them, you'll
It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them