Just because the odds of being struck by lightning are low — it’s about 1 in 700,000 in a given year for U.S. residents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — doesn’t mean the natural phenomenon doesn’t pose a dangerous threat.
In fact, NOAA notes that many people are unaware of the dangers involved. For example, “Most people do not realize that they can be struck by lightning even when the center of a thunderstorm is 10 miles (16 kilometers) away and there are blue skies overhead,” the organization reports.
When it comes to something as serious and unpredictable as Mother Nature, knowing the facts and how to protect yourself is of utmost importance.
Below, the experts at East Coast Lightning Equipment (ECLE) explain everything you need to know about lightning safety and how to stay safe during a storm.
1. Follow weather updates.
In 2015, 26 lightning fatalities have been documented so far. Most incidents occurred while the individual was pursuing some type of outdoor recreational activity. There’s no safe place to be outside during a thunderstorm, so it’s extremely important to pay attention to weather forecasts so you can avoid being outside and unprotected if there’s any threat of a storm.
“It is always best to be aware of and monitor the weather forecast,” the experts at ECLE explained. “If the forecast shows a high risk of thunderstorms, that’s an indication that a long bike ride or hike might not be appropriate that day.”
2. Don’t assume you’re safe because you don’t see lightning.
According to FEMA, all thunderstorms produce lightening, whether you can see it or not. Plus, even if it is visible, your ability to see it will vary depending on the time of day and obstructions like trees and mountains.
“In clear air, and especially at night, lightning can be seen from storms more than 10 miles away provided that obstructions don’t limit the view of the thunderstorm,” the ECLE experts said. “Thunder can usually be heard for a distance of about 10 miles provided that there is no background noise. If you hear thunder, though, it’s a safe bet that the storm is within ten miles.”
In other words, thunder is a sure sign that you should seek shelter immediately.
“Nearly all lightning strike fatalities occur before it starts to rain,” the ECLE experts added.
3. There is no safe place except under the roof of the structure.
This point cannot be emphasized enough. If you’re outdoors and you notice signs of a storm, seek shelter immediately.
Below, the ECLE experts explain what to do in several different scenarios.
• Stadiums: In a stadium, in order to be safe, the fans and players must get under cover. There is no safe place except under the roof of the structure.
• Small Shelters: For smaller venues such as little league games or beaches it is important to remember that small outdoor buildings including dugouts, rain shelters and sheds are not safe. Substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing are the safest places.
• Office buildings, schools and homes offer good protection — Once inside, stay away from windows and doors and anything that conducts electricity such as corded phones, wiring, plumbing and anything connected to these.
• Cars: A hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows closed also provides good protection. Avoid contact with metal in the vehicle and try to keep away from windows.
4. Wait at least 30 minutes.
“Because electrical charges can linger in clouds after a thunderstorm has passed, experts agree that people should wait at least 30 minutes after the storm before resuming activities,” the ECLE experts noted.