CENTRAL NEW YORK (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – As we near the end of the ‘Severe Weather Awareness Week’, today’s topic explores a common but underestimated danger, lightning. You may have heard the saying “When thunder roars, go indoors”, but did you know that if you hear thunder, you are already within striking distance of lightning. Even if a thunderstorm is 12 miles away and you have clear blue skies overhead, you are still at risk of being struck by lightning, and about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year, contributing to an average of over 20 deaths in the U.S. per year.

One of the reasons lightning is so dangerous is that it can reach temperatures of around 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit which is 5 times hotter than the sun. What’s even more mind-blowing is that only about 10% of people struck by lightning are actually killed. The other 90% must cope with varying degrees of discomfort and disability, sometimes for the rest of their lives. 

Since lightning is one of the most chaotic and unpredictable characteristics of a thunderstorm, no one can guarantee an individual or group absolute protection from lightning. Unfortunately, if you’re outside, there really is no safe place to take cover. Your best option is to be inside a house or other building with electrical wiring and plumbing to direct the current into the ground. Here  are some safety precautions you can take even while indoors to significantly reduce the chances of being struck:

Avoid plumbing: Metal plumbing and the water inside are both very good conductors of electricity. Therefore, do not wash your hands or dishes, take a shower or bath, do laundry, etc. during a thunderstorm.

Refrain from touching concrete surfaces: Lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring, such as in the basement or garage.

If inside a vehicle: Roll the windows up and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. metal surfaces, ignition, portable electronic devices plugged in for charging, etc.).

For the rest, you can click here! Since lightning is also a topic that is still far from fully understood, there are quite a few common misconceptions about it. Take a look below for some myths and facts about lightning and test your knowledge!

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year!

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted. Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry. Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning. Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference in where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground. Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

For more safety tips and information on lightning, you can visit these great resources:

NOAA Lightning Safety

NOAA Lighting Information

NOAA Lightning Safety Tips