Popular culture has largely portrayed a lightning strike as an event akin to winning the lottery or another extremely improbable occurrence. However, better data collection efforts over the last decade have shown lightning’s danger to be underrated at best.
To put the statistics in perspective:
According to the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), lightning strikes thousands of people each year, injuring a few more than 1,000. Have you ever been afraid to go swimming after watching ‘Jaws’? Well the probability of being struck by lightning is approximately 30 times more likely than being attacked by a shark. You should be watching the sky, not the water around you!
I personally know two people who have been struck by lightning; one lived, one did not. While this is entirely anecdotal evidence, it does beg a question as to why lightning is generally not taken seriously as a threat. My personal theory is that it’s a combination of the misconception that lightning strikes are extremely rare and the commonness with which we encounter lightning.
Lightning can also be very damaging to property; according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), there were 213,000 lightning related claims last year. These losses include damage to expensive electronics and structural fires. The I.I.I. further estimates that the average lightning claim to be $4,846.
- Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Wrong. Lightning often strikes the same place twice, especially if that place is tall, metallic, and isolated. While we’ll forgive you for using the expression in casual conversation, don’t believe it to be true.
- You are safe from lightning if you can see the sky. Wrong again. Lightning often strikes outside the area of a thunderstorm or rainstorm, sometimes several miles away. Just because the storm is not overhead does not mean you are safe.
- Lightning rods attract lightning. Wrong. Lightning rods provide a safe place to ground the surge of electricity should lightning strike.
Lightning Warning Signs:
If you are caught in a storm, pay attention to how you feel. If your skin beings to tingle, you hair stands on end, you smell an acrid odor in the air, or you get a metallic taste in your mouth, you might be about to experience a lightning strike. Get low to the ground and follow the steps below.
What to do and not to do (Compiled from the I.I.I, LPI, & Essortment):
- Stay away from bodies of water, such as lakes and swimming pools – even indoor swimming pools.
- Stay clear of isolated trees, flagpoles, telephone poles, hills, and rooftops. Get out into an open field or road.
- Of course NEVER touch metal objects such as wire fences, golf clubs, aluminum baseball bats, bicycles, during a lightning storm.
- If you are caught out doors during a thunderstorm, crouch down and keep your head as low as possible and only let your feet touch the ground – rock forward on your toes if possible to get as much of your feet off the ground. Do not touch the ground with your hands to balance yourself.
- NEVER lie down on the ground – you want as much of you off the ground as possible. The electrical current from a nearby lightning strike can travel toward you along wet ground.
- Even indoors you must use common sense. Always stay away from electrical appliances, metal pipes, get off the phone, stay out of the shower and bathtub and do not use any wired appliance.
- If you are caught outside with a small child, hold the child on your lap up off the ground as you crouch around them.
- Realize that lightning is a powerful force of nature and it demands that you develop a healthy respect and fear of it. Stay indoors during lightning storms!
- If someone has been struck by lightning, provide first-aid immediately. It is perfectly safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning—you will not get an electrical shock. Call 911 immediately and begin CPR or use a defibrillator if available.
- Invest in a lightning protection system for your home and or business. A building with a properly installed lightning protection system is a smart investment as it provides proven protection for your family, home and valuables. It is an important safety investment in areas prone to lightning.
Six lightning safety tips that could save your life (scoutingmagazine.org)
LPI and NFPA Partner to Reduce Risks from Lightning (prnewswire.com)
Calculating the Distance to Lightning Strikes (brokensecrets.com)