Ask Josh Fitzpatrick: Lightning Safety

Meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick has details on lightning facts and safety tips.

The lightning shot pictured above is from South Point, Ohio from earlier in March.

In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million lightning flashes each year. During the past 30 years, lightning killed an average of 66 people per year. This is more than the average of deaths per year caused by tornadoes. Yet because lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time and does not cause mass destruction of property, it is underrated as a risk. While documented lightning injuries in the United States average about 300 per year, undocumented injuries likely much higher.

Watch for Developing Thunderstorms:
Thunderstorms are most likely to develop on spring or summer days but can occur year round. As the sun heats the air, pockets of warmer air start to rise and cumulus clouds form. Continued heating can cause these clouds to grow vertically into towering cumulus clouds, often the first sign of a developing thunderstorm.

An Approaching Thunderstorm:
Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from area where it is raining. That's about the distance you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.

Lightning Safety
If you can see lightning or hear thunder you are already at risk! Most lightning injuries and fatalities occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.

Outdoor Activities:
Most lightning deaths and injuries occur in the summer.

  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. Move to a sturdy enclosed building.
  • Get inside a hardtop vehicle and keep the windows rolled up. Avoid touching metal.
  • If caught outdoors and no shelter is nearby: Stay away from tall trees. If there is no shelter crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from a tree as it is tall. Avoid being the tallest object around. Get as low as you can but do not lie prone on the ground. Squat on the balls of your feet to have minimum contact with the ground. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees.
  • Get out of the water. If caught in a boat, crouch down in the center of the boat away from metal hardware. Swimming, wading, snorkeling and scuba diving are NOT safe. Don't stand in puddles, even if wearing rubber boots.
  • Move away from a group of people. Stay several yards away from each other. Don't share a bleacher bench or huddle in a group.


If you are outdoors when you see or hear a thunderstorm coming or your hair stands on end, immediately stop your activities and seek safe shelter immediately!

30/30 Rule
The first 30 means if, between flash and bang, you count to 30 or less, you are in danger and should go to safe shelter.
Flash-to-bang: When you see the FLASH, Count the seconds to the BANG, Every 5 seconds equals 1 mile. Divide by 5 to give the distance in miles from you to the lightning.
30 seconds - suspend all outdoor activities (lightning strike was 6 miles away or less) and seek safe shelter
If you count 15 seconds or less, a lightning strike could occur where you are (3 miles away or less).

The second 30 means wait 30 minutes from the last flash or thunder to establish "all clear.

Indoor Activities:

  • Do not use any electrical appliances (except those used for weather information) and unplug unnecessary ones. Turn off air conditioners and computers to protect them from power surges.
  • Do not use a corded telephone except in an emergency. Do not bathe or shower during a thunderstorm. Avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity.
  • Stay away from windows and doors. Avoid contact with concrete walls or floors which may contain metal reinforcing bars; carports or open garages; covered patios; washing your hands or doing dishes.
  • When inside, wait 30 minutes after the last strike, before going out again.


No place is completely safe from lightning, but some places are safer than others. Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

Helping a Lightning Strike Victim:

  • If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical care immediately. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning.
  • However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike.
  • You are in no danger helping a lightning victim. The charge will not affect you

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