Lightning Safety


Lightning Safety
Healthy Living - August 19, 2014
Amy Movius, MD

It’s been a very active summer, weather-wise in Maine, with frequent thunderstorms. Nationwide, there are around 25 million lighting to ground strikes a year, about 60,000 which occur in Maine. These storms can be fascinating and even beautiful to witness – but make no mistake; every one of them is dangerous.
Lightning kills an average of 51 people per year; Maine ranks number 6 in deaths per capita. Most lightning strikes occur in summer and in the late afternoon, when people are outside. Most occur while people are doing leisure activities and water-related activities (especially fishing) are the most common. People who work outdoors such as farmers, ranchers, roofers, lawn care workers and construction workers are also at increased risk.

However, it is not about the job or the leisure activity, it is simply about being outside during a thunderstorm. There is NO safe place outside during a thunderstorm. Most of the time, lightning victims wait too long to seek safety and are often struck in the process of trying to reach shelter. The threat of lighting starts before - and ends after - most people think. If you can hear thunder, you are in striking distance of lightning. The National Weather Service has coined the saying: “When thunder roars, go indoors”. The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is in a “substantial building”- not a dugout or a shed. If one isn’t available, a hard topped metal vehicle is the next best choice.

Being indoors doesn’t mean you are safe from lightning however. Lightning causes thousands of home fires every year. Lightning can enter a house through a direct strike, wires or pipes that extend outside, or through the ground. However it gets in, once inside a home lightning can travel through electrical and phone wires, plumbing, radio and television systems, even metal reinforcements such as rebar.

Given that we can never control the weather and prediction is imperfect, there are still things we can do to maximize safety during thunderstorms.
1. Plan outdoor activities to avoid thunderstorms; monitor conditions continually if any suggestion of a storm develops. Factor in the time it would take to get to safely indoors should a storm threaten.
2. If you hear thunder, go inside a substantial building immediately. Get inside a hard-topped metal vehicle if no building is available.
3. Avoid open areas and stay away from isolated tall objects.
4. Indoors, avoid any contact with any wires – this includes appliances, corded phones, video games etc.
5. Indoors, avoid all water and plumbing – this means no hand washing, showers, dishes, or laundry.
6. Stay away from windows and doors and off porches.
7. Don’t lean against concrete, it may contain metal reinforcing bars.
8. Stay inside for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.

When someone dies from a lightning strike, it is usually from a cardiac arrest. Bystanders should call 911 and begin CPR or use an AED if available to try and revive them. It is not dangerous to touch lightning victims; they DO NOT carry an electrical charge!
The list below includes just some of the excellent resources available on lightning strikes, safety concerns and even lightening myths.

Maine Prepares, Maine Emergency Management Agency, section on lightning.
National Weather Service Public Information Statements, June 22-28 2014.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,