Summertime across the Ohio Valley means barbecues, festivals, sporting
events, boating, hitting the beach, camping, and many other recreational activities. In short,
summertime means a lot more people are spending a lot more time in the great outdoors. But summer is
also the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena -- lightning. Lightning
typically receives less attention than other storm-related killers because it does not result in
mass destruction or mass casualties like tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes often do. But consider
these lightning statistics:
About 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the
United States each year.
Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 52 lightning
fatalities per year (see
Only about 10% of people struck by lightning are actually
killed. The other 90% must cope with varying degrees of discomfort and disability, sometimes for the
rest of their lives.
Typically, the vast majority of lightning victims each year are
male (in 210 instances from 2006-2011, 81% of lightning fatalities were male and 19% were
How do Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio compare to the rest of the nation in terms
of lightning activity and lightning fatalities? In a typical year, the central Ohio Valley sees some
of the most frequent lightning activity across the United States. Unfortunately, Ohio ranks among
the top 5 states with the most lightning fatalities on record. Indiana and Kentucky lightning
fatality numbers are also rather high. Check out the images and table below for further insight
(note: "CG" stands for "cloud-to-ground").
Avg # CG Strikes Per Year
Avg # CG Strikes Per Square Mile Per Year
The purpose of Lightning Safety Awareness Week is to educate and raise awareness about the
hazards of lightning in order to lower the number of deaths and injuries caused by lightning
strikes.Remember, lightning makes every single thunderstorm a potential killer,
whether the storm produces one single bolt or ten thousand bolts. Have a lightning safety
plan. Check weather forecasts daily. Cancel or postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms
Celina native Ellen Bryan, Miss Ohio 2011, became an advocate for lightning safety after her
sister, Christina, was struck by lightning while working on a golf course in 2000. Christina's
injuries from the lightning strike were very severe, leaving her barely able to move and unable to
speak. Today Ellen tells Christina's story for her and partners with the National Weather
Service in educating people about the dangers of lightning. View her NOAA/NWS public service
announcement about lightning safety below.
Lightning Safety Guidelines
Lightning is one of the most erratic and unpredictable characteristics of a
thunderstorm. Because of this, no one can guarantee an individual or group absolute protection from
lightning. However, knowing and following proven lightning safety guidelines can greatly reduce the
risk of injury or death.
Therefore, if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter
immediately. Remember this lightning safety rule: WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO
INDOORS...and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. Do not
wait for the rain to start before you decide to seek shelter, and do not leave shelter just because
the rain has ended.
The best way to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of thunderstorms is to be
prepared. If you have outdoor plans, be sure to familiarize yourself with the latest weather
forecast before heading out. Consider taking a portable NOAA Weather Radio or AM/FM radio with you.
Upon arriving on-site, determine where you will seek shelter in the event of a thunderstorm and how
long it would take to reach that shelter. A sturdy, enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical
wiring is safest, but if one is not available most enclosed metal vehicles are safe alternatives.
During your outdoor activities, keep an eye to the sky for developing thunderstorms. If
thunder is heard, if lightning is seen, or even if thunderclouds are developing, get to your place
of shelter without delay! The table below gives examples of adequate and inadequate types of shelter
for lightning safety.
WHERE TO GO:
The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure
with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and
private residences. If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the
electricity and eventually direct it into the ground.
If no substantial buildings are
available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus would be a
WHERE NOT TO GO:
Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings
with exposed sides are NOT safe (even if they are "grounded"). These include beach shacks, metal sheds,
picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as
Convertible vehicles offer no safety
from lightning, even if the top is up. Other vehicles which are NOT safe during thunderstorms are
those with open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction equipment.
Being inside a house or other building with
electrical wiring and plumbing is your safest option during a thunderstorm, but it does not
guarantee you will be 100% safe from lightning. There are still some lightning safety guidelines you
must follow while inside a place of shelter to keep yourself safe.
Don't use corded phones: Using a corded phone during a
thunderstorm is one of the leading causes of indoor lightning injuries. However, it IS safe to use
cordless or cell phones as long as they are not being charged.
Stay away from windows and doors: Sitting on an open porch
to watch a thunderstorm is also dangerous. It is best to be in an interior room during a
Don't touch electrical equipment or cords: Any device that uses electricity (e.g. computers, televisions, household appliances, etc.)
is susceptible to a lightning strike. Electrical surges caused by lightning can damage electronics
(even at some distance from the actual strike), and a typical surge protector will do little to
protect the device (or the person using it) if lightning should strike. So consider unplugging
certain appliances or electronics, but for your own safety do this BEFORE the storm
Avoid plumbing:Metal plumbing and the water inside are both very good conductors of
electricity. Therefore, do not wash your hands or dishes, take a shower or bath, do laundry, etc.
during a thunderstorm.
Refrain from touching concrete
surfaces: Lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in
concrete walls and flooring, such as in the basement or
If inside a
vehicle: Roll the windows up and avoid contact with any conducting
paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. metal surfaces, ignition, portable electronic
devices plugged in for charging,
Lightning Myths and Facts
Myth: A lightning
victim is electrified. If you touch them, you'll risk being electrocuted. Fact: The human body does not store
electricity, and lightning victims require immediate medical attention. It is perfectly safe to
touch a lightning victim in order to give them first aid. Call 911 for help.
Myth: If it's not raining or there
aren't any clouds overhead, you're safe from lightning. Fact: Lightning often strikes several
miles from the center of a thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. In
fact,"bolts from the
blue" can strike as far as 10 miles out from the parent thunderstorm. That's
why it's important to seek shelter at the first indication of a thunderstorm and stay there
until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
Myth: The rubber soles of shoes or
rubber tires on a car will protect you from a lightning strike. Fact: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber
tires provide NO protection from lightning, but most vehicles with metal tops and sides do provide
adequate shelter from lightning because the charge travels through the metal frame and eventually
into the ground. Just be sure to avoid contact with anything inside the vehicle that conducts
electricity. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational
vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning.
Myth: "Heat Lightning"
occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat. Fact: Many people incorrectly think
that "heat lightning" is a specific type of lightning. Actually, it is just lightning from
a thunderstorm that is too far away for any thunder to be heard (thunder is seldom heard beyond 10
miles under ideal conditions). If the storm approaches, the same lightning safety guidelines above
should be followed.
Myth: Lightning never strikes the same
place twice. Fact: Lightning often strikes the same
place or object repeatedly, especially if it's tall, pointy, and isolated. The Empire State
Building is struck by lightning nearly 100 times each year.
Myth: If caught outside during a
thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree. Fact: Seeking shelter under a tree is
one of the leading causes of lightning related fatalities. Remember, NO PLACE outside is
safe when thunderstorms are in the area. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep
moving toward a safe shelter.
Myth: Metal structures or metal on the
body (jewelry, watches, etc.) attract lightning. Fact: The presence of metal has no
bearing on where lightning will strike. Mountains are made of rock but get struck by lightning many
times a year. Rather, an object's height, shape, and isolation are the dominant factors that
affect its likelihood of being struck by lightning. While metal does not attract lightning, it
obviously does conduct electricity, so stay away from metal fences, railings, bleachers, etc. during
Myth: If caught outside during a
thunderstorm, you should lie flat on the ground. Fact:NO PLACE outside is safe
when thunderstorms are in the area. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep
moving toward a safe shelter.