Lightning & Thunderstorms

In the U.S., lightning kills an average of 53 people each year. All thunderstorms produce lightning, and all have the potential for other dangers, including tornadoes, strong winds, hail, wildfires and flash flooding.

Lightning's risk to individuals and property is increased because of its unpredictability. It often strikes outside of heavy rain and can travel up to 15 miles in any direction. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.

Preparing for a Thunderstorm and Lightning

  • Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a thunderstorm hazard, including understanding the difference between a severe thunderstorm watch and a severe thunderstorm warning.
    • Thunderstorm Watch: there is a possibility of a thunderstorm in your area.
    • Thunderstorm Warning: a thunderstorm is occurring or will likely occur soon. Take shelter immediately.
  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
  • Use the 30/30 lightning safety rule. If you see lightning and you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, go indoors. Then stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

Have a Thunderstorm Plan

  • If a thunderstorm is likely in your area, postpone outdoor activities.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage. Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Avoid showering or bathing during a thunderstorm. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Watch for darkening skies, lightning, increasing winds.
  • Go quickly inside a sturdy, enclosed building. If no building is close, get in the car and avoid touching metal surfaces.
  • If no shelter or car is available, go to the lowest area nearby and make yourself the smallest target possible. Do not lie flat on the ground.
  • If on open water, get to land and shelter immediately.
  • Avoid:
    • Any tall, isolated trees in an open area.
    • Hilltops, open fields, the beach, a boat on the water, isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
    • Anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, bleachers, fences and bicycles.
  • Do not use electrical items such as computers or television sets as power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • A corded telephone should only be used in an emergency, but cordless phones and cell phones are safe to use.

Stay Informed

  • Listen to weather-alert radios to stay informed of thunderstorm watches and warnings.
  • Also monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet.
  • Keep in mind that after a thunderstorm, it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.
  • Learn more about lightning safety