The ingredient that defines a thunderstorm is lightning. Since lightning creates thunder, a storm producing lightning is called a thunderstorm.
Lightning occurs during all thunderstorms. Lightning results from the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas.
The unpredictability of lightning increases the risk to individuals and property. In the United States, an average of 300 people are injured and 80 people are killed each year by lightning. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for a long period of time.
When thunderstorms threaten your area, get inside a home, building or hard top automobile (not a convertible) and stay away from metallic objects and fixtures.
1. If you are inside a home:
Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
Avoid using a corded telephone, except for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
Use your battery operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.
2. If outside, with no time to reach a safe location, follow these recommenations:
In a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
In open areas, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.
Do not stand under a natural lightning rod, such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area.
Do not stand on a hilltop, in an open field, on the beach or in a boat on the water.
Avoid isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
Get away from open water. If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately.
Get away from anything metal tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs and bicycles.
Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails and other metallic paths that could carry lightning to you from some distance away.
If you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike), squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.
3. Remember the following facts and safety tips about lightning.
Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
Lightning-strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. If breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If the heart has stopped, a trained person should administer CPR. If the victim has a pulse and is breathing, look for other possible injuries. Check for burns where the lightning entered and left the body. Be alert also for nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing or eyesight. Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for information on CPR and first aid classes.
Heat lightning is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction!
Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
Many fires in the western United States and Alaska are started by lightning.
Lightning can occur from cloud-to-cloud, within a cloud, cloud-to-ground, or cloud-to-air.
Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000 but could be even less by following safety tips.
Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely.
Remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule Go indoors if, after seeing lighting, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.