Lightning Safety Tips: How to Stay Safe During a Thunderstorm

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Lightning (Photo: @christinacorso via Twenty20)
Thunderstorms can do more than ruin outdoor plans or reduce your visibility when driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lightning is the top cause of weather-related fatalities in the U.S., responsible for an average of 27 deaths per year. In Florida alone, there have been more than 2,000 injuries from lightning in the last half century. Here’s how to stay safe during a thunderstorm and protect yourself from lightning.

The 30-30 rule to gauge lightning danger

Lightning is visible from miles away, so it can be difficult to gauge how close and how dangerous lightning is to you. This is when the 30-30 rule can help. Once you see lightning, count to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach the number 30, then lightning is too close for comfort. Take shelter in a non-concrete structure or your car.
If no shelter can be found, crouch low to the ground, yet with as little as possible touching the ground. Lightning currents can actually travel along the top of the ground and be potentially fatal if close enough to the source. While your feet necessarily must touch the ground, the soles on your shoes provide some protection against electrical current.
Warning: Concrete structures often have metal framing, which is a conductor of electricity. This is why you want to avoid concrete buildings when lightning is present in a thunderstorm.

How to stay safe during a thunderstorm while indoors

While your best bet is to go or stay indoors to stay protected from lightning in a thunderstorm, that alone does not make you completely safe. In fact, approximately 1/3 of lightning-related injuries occur indoors. That’s because electrical currents can travel through water, wiring, and even metal bars within walls or floors.
As water is a conductor of electricity, you do not want to be in contact with it when lightning is a threat. You can put off the dishes until another time. Bathing can also wait until after the threat of lightning has passed.
Also, avoid using electronic equipment. Electric current travels easily along wires. Do not touch your television, computer, or radio, and instead use a remote control if necessary. Do not talk on a landline phone, although your cellular phone is safe during a thunderstorm.

Thunderstorm watch vs. thunderstorm warning

Using the 30-30 rule to gauge thunderstorm danger isn’t always practical. You may be more likely to rely on weather reports on television, online, or radio. So, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a thunderstorm watch and a warning to best stay safe during a thunderstorm.
A severe thunderstorm watch means that weather conditions are conducive to producing a thunderstorm within the watch, or local, area. A severe thunderstorm warning, on the other hand, means that a severe thunderstorm has been detected and danger is close. So, a watch means to keep an eye on the weather while a warning means to take safety precautions immediately.
For a thunderstorm to be considered severe, it has gusts of wind that are 58 mph or more. Or, the thunderstorm produces hail that is at least one inch in diameter. While high winds, hail, and flooding are dangerous products of severe thunderstorms, lightning is the most perilous.