With powerful, fast-moving
thunderstorms sweeping through the
DC area yesterday, and with more storms on the horizon this summer, it’s
important to be familiar with some general
lightning safety tips. Understanding
lightning and its dangers, as well as what to do during a storm can help significantly
reduce the risk of lightning related injury, or even save your life. The
National Weather Service (NWS) estimates that there are 25 million lightning flashes each year.
Lightning has also
killed an average of 62 people per year over the past 30 years. However, because lightning normally affects only
one or two victims at a time and generally does not cause mass destruction (like a
tornado), it is
underrated as a risk. Also, lightning is one of the most variable and unpredictable aspects
of a thunderstorm, thus there are no guarantees that an individual or
group is absolutely protected from lightning.
While the NWS is quick to remind that no place is completely safe from
lightning, it assures that
some places are safer than others.
"Where to go:
- The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure
with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools,
office buildings, and private residences.
- If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct
the electricity more efficiently than a human body. If no buildings are
available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van,
or school bus makes a decent alternative.
Where NOT to go:
- Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings
which are NOT SAFE (even if they are "grounded") have exposed
openings. These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions,
carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.
- Convertible vehicles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is
"up". Other vehicles which are NOT SAFE during lightning storms
are those which have open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction
What to do:
- Once inside a sturdy building, stay away from electrical appliances and
plumbing fixtures. As an added safety measure, stay in an interior room.
- If you are inside a vehicle, roll the windows up, and avoid contact with
any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. radios,
CB’s, ignition, etc.).
What NOT to do:
- Lightning can travel great distances through power lines, especially in
rural areas. Do not use electrical appliances, ESPECIALLY corded telephones
unless it is an emergency (cordless and cell phones are safe to use).
- Computers are also dangerous as they usually are connected to both phone
and electrical cords. Do not take a shower or bath or use a hot tub."
For more information on lightning safety and risk reduction, see the
National Weather Service.
Previously on the
DC Metro Area Personal Injury Blog, we have posted articles related to: