How to Avoid Being Hit By Lightning

Lightning strikes can kill. How to avoid being hit by lightning
With news that two people died from lightning strikes in two days at Rocky Mountain national park, it’s important to remember to take basic precautions when out hiking. Both deaths (a women on Friday and a man on Saturday) came when groups of hikers got caught outside hiking at a high altitude at the park, and thunderstorms quickly formed. Along with the two deaths, 10 others were also treated for lightning strike injuries at local hospitals.

Lightning strikes are one of those weather conditions many people don’t consider to be a deadly threat, but they’re actually a much more common way to die than many other weather-related phenomenon. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lightning strikes are the second leading weather killer in the US, killing an average of 73 people each year and injuring 300 more.

For those who will be outside the summer, below are some basic cautions you should take if you ever find yourself in a lightning storm. There it’s nothing that provides 100% safety from lightning. That being said, there are a number of actions you can take which can greatly reduce the chance of being struck. When you know a storm is approaching, there are a number of places you want to avoid, and immediately find a better place if you happen to be near one. Remember, if you hear thunder or see lightning, the danger of being hit is already present.

The best course of action is to get inside a large shelter like a house as quickly as possible. When hiking and outdoors, this isn’t always possible, especially if the storm comes quickly and catches you off guard. It’s important to remember that just because you have something over your head that can protect you from rain doesn’t mean you’re safe from lightning. If you are stuck outside, the following are some of the more common places that you want to avoid when there’s thunderstorms around.

  • Ridge lines and other high places
  • Open fields
  • Isolated trees
  • Picnic shelters
  • Baseball dugouts
  • Communication towers
  • Flagpoles
  • Light poles
  • Metal and wood bleachers
  • Metal fences
  • Convertible cars
  • Golf carts
  • Water

If at all possible, you want to get inside as quickly as possible. Large structures which are enclosed are generally a safer place to take shelter than small, open structures. If you’re away from structures, but your car is nearby, most vehicles will provide good shelter from lightning, just be sure the windows are rolled up.

Even when you’re inside a large structure, there are still things you can do that will put you in danger of being struck. Avoid contact with anything that’s conductive, such as window frames, metal doors, plumbing and wiring. That means you shouldn’t be using telephones, taking showers, washing your hands, doing the dishes or doing laundry when there is thunder outside. Also be sure to stay off porches and avoid sitting on concrete floors or leaning against concrete walls.

If you are trapped outside during a storm, get as low as possible to the ground, but also touch as little of the ground as possible. While lying flat on the ground, will put you low to the ground, a lot of your body is also touching it. The problem is that if you do get hit, the less contact you have between yourself and the ground, the better your chance of surviving. Having a lot of ground contact will increase the chance of major organ damage if hit. Squatting while standing is better than sitting or lying down on the ground in this situation, and it’ll increase your chances of surviving if you are hit.

In the end, the best action you can take is to be aware of the weather in the area where you are. If you’re in a place that has flash afternoon thunderstorms, understand this and take precautions the minute you see or hear them coming. The quicker you react, the better chance you have of avoiding being struck by lightning.

(Photo courtesy of John Fowler)

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6 Responses to How to Avoid Being Hit By Lightning

  1. Mike says:

    “Gonna show you why they call me li….”zzzt…

  2. westcoastdog says:

    A cave is a safe place in a thunderstorm, but if it is shallow cave, or an old mine with metallics nearby, it can be a deadly location during lightning. Three people were killed in Yosemite while crouching under an overhang.

  3. Dennis says:

    The article provides a certain amount of good advice but I’d like to see someone “… squat on one leg if possible, because the less contact you have between yourself and the ground…” That’s not helpful.

  4. michele3d says:

    Excellent article. Thanks, Jeffrey!

  5. You’re correct. I was trying to make a point, but gave a poor and unrealistic example in doing so. Rewritten.

  6. Michael says:

    I think in terms of the least worst place rather than looking for a good one if none is available. I get away from the highest thing around stay that distance for it. It is usually a tree after I have moved to the lowest ground I can get to. If the highest tree is 30 feet I try and get 30 feet from it on the horizontal.

    Reality is no one survives a direct hit. The most common is ground current.

    I have followed this for my whole life as I was hit at a county fair. I have still not come across anyone getting hit while in a pool or swimming in open water. Being half in the pool and half out is somewhat common.

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