Lightning Storms: 7 Safety Tips

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I love watching lightning—nature’s light shows—but, yes, it can be dangerous. Here’s some background on lightning and basic lightning safety rules.

Lightning strikes more than 40 to 50 times a second during June, July and August. What you are watching are spectacular electric sparks. Just as you build up static charges when you shuffle your feet along a carpet, so the collision of ice and slush churning in a thundercloud builds up charges. The slush near the bottom of the cloud builds up a negative charge while the tiny ice crystals carried to the top become positive. Finally, the charges equal out, just like that irritating spark that stings you when you touch something. The charge flows somewhere and about 25% of the time—BANG!—it hits the ground.

Summertime is lightning season. Source: NOAA

That’s where it can get dangerous. But some places are more dangerous than others.

  • Kifuka in the African Democratic Republic of the Congo averages 410 lightning strikes per square mile every year.
  • In North America, the champion is the Tampa-Orlando area with 91 flashes per square mile.

Even then, statistics show that not all people face the same risks. Little old ladies are safe, but guys between the ages of 20 and 30 seem to be lightning rods.

If you are a young man in Florida, lightning is not your friend! Source: NOAA

Safety in Lightning Storms

The rules for safety in lightning storms are basic.

  • Be smart enough to get out of the rain if you hear thunder.
  • If you are outside, avoid being the highest object anywhere—or taking shelter near or under the highest object, including tall trees. Better to crouch down in an open field than stay near trees.
  • Cars are relatively safe shelters. Make sure the windows are shut.
  • If you are with other people in a lightning storm, stay about 15 feet away from each other.
  • Obviously, stay out of water!
  • Avoid metal, even metal on a purse or backpack.
  • Remember, the 4th of July is historically one of the most deadly times of the year for lightning in the U.S.

Credit: NASA

Enjoy the light shows, but stay safe! See more amazing facts about lightning!

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather--from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

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