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Stay Safe During Lightning

Lightning striking groundProtect yourself and your loved ones from lightning during a thunderstorm.

The weather forecast calls for a slight chance of thunderstorms, but you can only see a few fluffy white clouds overhead. So you and your tennis partner grab your racquets and balls and head for the tennis court. You spend a few minutes warming up and then—wait! Is that thunder you hear? Was that a lightning flash?

What do you do? Keep playing until the thunder and lightning get closer? Go sit on the metal bench under the trees to see what happens? Or get in your car and drive home?

Correct answer: If no substantial, non-concrete shelter is nearby, get in your car and wait out the storm.
Why? Because being outside when lightning is present is not something to take lightly—ever.

Risks of lightning strikes

Although the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 500,000, some factors can put you at greater risk. Lightning most often strikes people who work outside or engage in outdoor recreational activities. Regional and seasonal differences can also affect your risk of being injured by lightning.

Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas have the most lightning deaths and injuries [634 KB]. Florida is considered the "lightning capital" of the country, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries over the past 50 years.

The consequences of lightning strikes are serious. Lightning is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities. During 2003–2012, lightning caused an average of 35 deaths per year in the United States.

Lightning striking residential areaProtect yourself from lightning strikes

You can protect yourself from risk even if you are caught outdoors when lightning is close by.

Safety precautions outdoors

  • If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity.
  • Remember: When thunder roars, go indoors. Find a safe, enclosed shelter.
  • If you are caught in an open area, Do NOT lie down. Lightning causes electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away.
  • Stay away from concrete floors or walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Although you should move into a non-concrete structure if possible, being indoors does not automatically protect you from lightning. In fact, about one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors.

Safety precautions indoors

  • Avoid water during a thunderstorm. Lightning can travel through plumbing.
  • Avoid electronic equipment of all types. Lightning can travel through electrical systems and radio and television reception systems.
  • Avoid corded phones. However, cordless or cellular phones are safe to use during a storm.
  • Avoid concrete floors and walls.

Lightning strikes may be rare, but they still happen and the risk of serious injury or death is severe. So take thunderstorms seriously. Learn and follow these safety rules to keep yourself safe from lightning.

  • Page last reviewed: June 23, 2014
  • Page last updated: June 27, 2014
  • Content source:
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