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Quick as Lightning, You Could Lose Your Life

Photo by Alan Waggoner, AVECC Member
Lightning strikes the United States millions of times each year, and every strike is a potential killer. To keep your family safe, it is important to know what actions to take during a thunderstorm. There are many myths and old wives' tales about lightning. Some of them just might get you killed.

Erin Hollinshead, executive director of the Safe Electricity program warns, “There is no safe place from lightning when you are outside. To be as safe as possible you must seek shelter indoors or in an enclosed metal-topped vehicle when there is a thunderstorm in the area.”

A safe indoor shelter is defined as a substantial building with a full roof, walls, and a floor. Unsafe structures include covered patios, open garages, picnic shelters, and tents. A safe vehicle is one that is fully enclosed like a hard-toped car, minivan, truck, etc. Unsafe vehicles include convertibles, motorcycles, golf carts, and any open cab vehicle.

The National Weather Service separates lightning myth from fact:

  • Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
    Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground.
  • Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you will be electrocuted.
    Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
  • Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
    Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.
  • Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players, watches, etc.), attract lightning.
    Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike.
  • Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
    Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

One good way to stay safe from the threat of lighting is to plan ahead. Listen to the forecast to know if there is a danger of severe weather, and make sure you can get to a safe location if a thunderstorm develops. Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. It is a good idea to heed the advice of the National Weather Service, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

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