All thunderstorms contain lightning. Find out more information and tips about lightning and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is lightning?
- The action of rising and descending air within a thunderstorm separates positive and negative charges. Water and ice particles also affect the distribution of electrical charge.
- Lightning results from the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas.
- Most lightning occurs within the cloud or between the cloud and ground.
- A cloud-to-ground lightning strike begins as an invisible channel of electrically charged air moving from the cloud toward the ground. When one channel nears an object on the ground, a powerful surge of electricity from the ground moves upward to the cloud and produces the visible lightning strike.
- Lightning occurs with ALL thunderstorms.
- The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000° Fahrenheit hotter than the surface of the sun. The rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in thunder.
What are the risks of being struck by lightning?
- In the United States, lightning kills more people each year than tornadoes.
- Averages 93 deaths and 300 injuries each year.
- Most lightning casualties occur in the summer months and during the afternoon and early evening.
- Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors.
- In recent years, people have been killed by lightning in such situations as boating, standing under a tree, playing soccer, swimming, riding on a lawnmower, fishing in a boat, golfing, talking on the telephone, mountain climbing, riding a bike.
What are the myths and facts about lightning?
If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.
Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
Lightning-strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. Contact a local agency for information on CPR and first aid classes.
"Heat lightning" occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.
What is referred to as "heat lightning" is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction.
What can you do before a storm?
Know the county in which you live and the names of nearby major cities. Severe weather warnings are issued on a county or basis.
Check the weather forecast before leaving for extended periods outdoors.
- Watch for signs of approaching storms.
- If a storm is approaching, keep a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio or AM / FM radio with you.
- Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. This is your best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
- Check on those who have trouble taking shelter if severe weather threatens.
What can you do when a thunderstorm approaches?
- Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.
- Move to a sturdy building or car. Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees, or in convertible automobiles.
- If lightning is occurring and a sturdy shelter is not available, get inside a hard top automobile and keep windows up.
- Get out of boats and away from water.
- Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances. Use phones ONLY in an emergency.
- Do not take a bath or shower until the storm passes.
- Turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressors.
What do you do if caught outdoors and no shelter is nearby?
- Find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding.
- If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
- If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible, and minimize your contact with the ground.
- If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately.