Personal Safety Tips to Avoid Being Struck by Lightning

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Howw to avoid being stuck by lightning:

This article cites opinions from experts on what to do to reduce the chances of personal injury by lightning during a storm - how to avoid being struck by lightning while outdoors during a storm or if you are indoors in a building lacking lightning protection. This article series describes common lightning protection systems, certification, installation, and lightning protection system inspection.

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How to Avoid Being Struck by Lightning

Higgins speedboat, Rappahannock River, Dan Friedman, Sr. 1949This text cites opinions about what an individual should do to reduce the chances of being struck by lightning if one is caught outdoors during a lightning storm. (Most of the articles at this website describe lightning protection systems for buildings, certification, installation, and lightning protection system inspection.)

My opinion is that specific details such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time or conducting yourself improperly during a storm can significantly increase the chances of being injured by lightning.

The boat shown at left was being driven by my father. When this Higgins speedboat was sold, the new owner tried to beat an oncoming storm as he fled across the wide expanse of the Rapphannock. The boat was struck by lightning, its occupants never found, and pieces of the craft were located floating in one of the freshwater creeks feeding the river. (LIGHTNING STRIKES SMALL BOAT)

[Click to enlarge any image]

Some inspection clients have informed me as well that the old adage "lightning does not strike twice in the same place" is incorrect. Some particular homes, trees, or locations receive frequent lightning strikes.

Simple Basic Advice on How to Avoid Being Hit by Lightning

When you hear thunder, seek shelter indoors, go in before the storm, stay in afterwards: don't wait until the rain or thunderstorm has reached your location. If you hear lightning, even before you see the storm, it may be as much as 10 miles away. But lightning strikes can occur before you ever see the storm. "Blue sky lightning" is equally dangerous so don't wait for the rain to start to go indoors. Similarly, since more than half of lightning strike deaths occur after the storm has gone by, don't rush outside right after the rain has passed.

Additional advice from several sources of information about lightning safety is provided just below.

Opinions on what to do in a thunderstorm to avoid being hit by lightning vary

"Although the scientific understanding of lightning has advanced significantly in the last few decades (Krider 1996), a consistent match between basic science and applications to safety had not been made.

For example, NOAA (1992) said to squat on the balls of your feet and minimize contact with the ground, while NOAA (1985) recommended dropping to the knees during the lightning threat, and NOAA (1970) suggested dropping to the ground.

Concerning when to reach a safe location, NOAA (1992) recommended going to a safe location at the first sound of thunder, NOAA (1985) was not specific about when to go to a safe place, and NOAA (1970) made no mention of this decision process. Similar variations can be found in these and many other publications regarding additional issues such as medical and first aid approaches to lightning victims." -- Quotation - see Holle/Lopez.

Advice from the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) on lightning safety during storms

Consumer pamphlets distributed by the Lightning Protection Institute include this advice:

Lightning safety while indoors during a thunderstorm

If your building is not protected by a lightning protection system, LPI advises:

Lightning safety while outdoors during a thunderstorm

If you are caught outside during a storm and cannot reach a safe building or a hard-topped automobile, LPI has some advice about what to do and what not to do:

More lightning safety advice for what to do if you're caught outdoors is just below where I report the advice from UL and add comments from other sources --DF.

Advice from Underwriters Laboratories on Lightning Safety during Storms

UL advises six steps to avoid being struck by lightning: [Bracketed comments are added information gleaned from other sources --DF].

  1. Go indoors in a large or metal frame building, preferably one which has lightning protection installed
  2. Avoid high areas where you will be the highest object. As stated by LPI, UL adds, Crouch down - if you feel a tingling and your hair stands on end, lightning may be about to strike! Immediately crouch down. Do not lie down. Do not place your hands on the ground. Put your hands on your knees. [If you seek shelter in a ditch, don't lie down in it and don't seek shelter in a wet or flooding ditch, just a dry one!--DF]
  3. Stay off of the lake, the tractor, etc.: lakes, beaches, open water, fishing from a boat or dock, riding golf carts, operating farm equipment, bicycles, motorcycles, even riding in a convertible can be dangerous. [Metal-roofed automobiles are usually good protection--DF] If you are riding a motorcycle down the highway in a thunderstorm, take shelter in a tunnel, or in emergency, even in a ditch or cave if there is no better location.

    [Motorcycle riders may seek shelter from lightning strikes under an overpass or bridge if there is no nearby building available, but don't lean against concrete or steel pillars as they may end up conducting a lightning bolt to earth (and you)! Motor cycle riders who ride during thunderstorms should see "Lightning Awareness," by Gerry Schulte, and appearing in the BMW ON magazine, June 2007 --DF]
  4. If caught outside on high ground or in the open, go to a low area and stay away from trees, particularly isolated trees. [Stay away from trees at a horizontal distance of at least twice that of the height of the tree.
  5. Avoid fences, poles, trees or other electrically conductive objects as they can send out "side flashes" during a lightning strike.
  6. Indoors do not: stand by open windows or doors, near TVs, nor near large metal objects like sinks, tubs, radiators, stoves, refrigerators. Avoid using small electrical appliances like toasters, radios, hair dryers.
  7. [Added-DF: Metal objects which you may be carrying such as metal frame backpacks or golf clubs increase the chances of being stuck by lightning or of being burned by a strike or nearby strike and a side-flash. Take off such items and stay at least 50 feet from them.]

First aid for lightning strike victims

This is very basic advice and does not address CPR training or other levels of expertise.

Report on Lightning Strike Catastrophes for Small Boats on Open Water

Higgins speedboat, Rappahannock River, Dan Friedman, Sr. 1949

Stay off of open water: OPINION by DF: Living on the Rappahannock river in Virginia, we had heard of people who were killed by lighting.

A case involving my Dad's speedboat shown here ended in tragedy in Virginia in 1950 [the photograph was taken in 1949]: a neighbor who had purchased my dad's Higgins speedboat came to take delivery. The new owner was struck by lightning while on the water.


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