Lightning Safety

On average, six people die each year in Texas from lightning strikes.

If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, get inside a building.

If you have to stay outside:

  • Keep away from metal objects
  • Stay below ground level,
  • Stay away from hilltops,
  • Stay away from open areas or fields
  • Most important, stay away from open water and tall trees. Both are great lightning conductors.

Lightning Facts

  • Lightning kills more Americans than tornadoes and hurricanes each year.
    • Being inside a building or even a car during a thunderstorm can decrease your chances of being struck by lightning. Stay up to date on weather conditions when planning camping trips, swimming, fishing, golf or other outdoor activities.
  • Lightning follows only flooding as the most common cause of weather-related deaths in Texas.
    • Many people are not aware of this fact, since lightning tends to strike only one or two victims at a time which doesn't always make front-page headlines. Still, the numbers add up and everyone's level of concern needs to remain high, especially as spring and summer arrive.
  • You can estimate the distance to lightning by watching for the flash and counting the number of seconds until thunder is heard.
    • For every five seconds you count, the lightning is one mile away

Lightning Types

There are several types of lightning discharges.

Most discharges occur inside the storm - from the storm into the air, or from beneath the storm into the ground.

Stronger, brighter, and more powerful bolts can also strike from the side of the storm, reaching the ground several miles away from the storm itself. These cloud-to-air and within-cloud strikes can be seen from 20 to 30 miles away or more. At this point, watch closely to see if the storms are approaching. If you can hear thunder or can see a strike to the ground, you are within 10 to 15 miles and in a high-danger zone.

What to Do

You should have a safe location in mind and be ready to move to it quickly. If you are with a group, alert them to this threat and make sure everyone knows how to get to safety without delay.

A storm cell containing lightning can travel at 60 mph or one mile per minute. You need to allow plenty of time to get to safety. If you are with a large group that reacts slowly, the safety time required may be 10 to 15 minutes. If you are close to shelter and can move quickly, you may need only five minutes. This is only an estimate and if the lightning is extremely intense, bright, or frequent you should begin to move earlier.

Lightning tends to strike tall objects and metal objects and can travel through moist soil for dozens of feet. To select the best shelter, move into a sturdy building and stay away from windows and doors. For increased protection, avoid electric appliances or metal plumbing. Stay off the telephone.

If you are outside, the interior of a car, truck, or bus is relatively safe from lightning. To be safer, do not touch metal on the inside of the vehicle. The outside bed of a truck is a deadly and dangerous location. Other vehicles are safer since their outside shells spread out the lightning charge, weakening it and leaking it to the ground. It is not because thin rubber tires are grounding them.

If you are outdoors with no shelter available as lightning approaches:

  • Stay low.
  • Move away from hills and high places and avoid tall, isolated trees.
  • Do not touch metal objects, such as tennis rackets, baseball bats and golf clubs. Do not ride bicycles or lean against fences or metal sheds.
  • Do not lean on a car or truck.
  • Get inside quickly.

If you feel your hair suddenly stand on end, it means you may be a lightning target. Crouch low on the balls of your feet and try not to touch the ground with your knees or hands. Avoid wet areas that can conduct the lightning charge.

Remember to keep using these safety rules until the thunderstorm has dissipated or moved well away.