Thunderstorm Safety Tips

Do you know what to do to stay safe?

It’s that time of year again when we are approaching that confluence of peak time to be outdoors coupled with the greatest threat of thunderstorms.  While most all of us love the summer weather and the activities that go with it, it places us at greatest risk for something to happen due to lightning.

In an effort to raise the awareness level and promote forward-thinking to minimize the risk of being struck by lightning this week, June 24-30, 2018 is designated as Lightning Safety Awareness Week here in the United States. 

National Lightning Safety Awareness week was started in 2001 to call attention to this underrated killer. Since then, U.S. lightning fatalities have been reduced by 40% from about 50 per year to about 30. This reduction in fatalities is largely due to greater awareness of lightning danger, and people seeking safety when thunderstorms threaten.

What is the difference between a thunderstorm watch and a warning?  Is there a greater likelihood of a lightning strike in one compared to the other?

Know the Difference

Severe Thunderstorm Watch – Severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. Stay informed and be ready to act if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.  Simply put, it means that people are keeping an eye out for storms.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning – Severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.  A warning is more significant than a watch.

Every year people are killed or seriously injured by severe thunderstorms despite advance warning. While some did not hear the warning, others heard the warning and did not pay attention to it. The information in this section, combined with timely watches and warnings about severe weather, may help save lives.

What to do when a thunderstorm is imminent

  1. Seek shelter!  The safest location during a thunderstorm is in a building.  The second best option is inside a vehicle, such as your car or a truck. 
  2. What is a building or car isn’t available? 

    If you absolutely cannot get to safety, you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck with the following tips. But don’t kid yourself–you are NOT safe outside. Know the weather patterns of the area you are in. For example, in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day and be down the mountain by noon. Listen to the weather forecast for the outdoor area you plan to visit. The forecast may be very different from the one near your home. If there is a high chance of thunderstorms, stay inside. 

    When confronted with an outdoor storm situation and you do not have a place of shelter to retreat to nearby:

    • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
    • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
    • If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
    • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
    • Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.
  3. If you are able to find shelter during the storm, the following are recommendations:
    • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning. If thunder roars, go indoors! The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
    • Avoid electrical equipment and telephones. Use battery-powered TVs and radios instead.
    • Shutter windows and close outside doors securely. Keep away from windows.
    • Do not take a bath, shower or use plumbing.
    • If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.

Below are some additional resources for staying safe during thunderstorms:

Another casualty of thunderstorms can be the loss of power.  Protect yourself and gain peace of mind with a home standby or backup generator!  For additional information on home standby or backup generators, click here or set up a service call request with us at Brubaker Inc. at 717.299.5641.


Sources and Resources:

1. National Lightning Safety Council – National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 24-30, 2018

2. Thunderstorm Safety, American Red Cross

3. National Weather Service

4. When a Safe Building or Vehicle is Nearby National Weather Service/NOAA

5. Lightning Safety: Debunking the Myths  (While this is presented from a hiker’s perspective, it contains a lot of useful information.)