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Lightning

Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere (cloud-to-cloud) or between the atmosphere and the ground.  There are about 6,000 lightning strikes around the world every minute, which is more than 8 million strikes every day.  Hundreds of people are severely injured by lightning strikes every year and Nassau County has one of the highest annual rates of lightning strikes in the country!  You can protect yourself and your loved ones if you know what to do when you see lightning or when you hear thunder as a warning.  There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area.  If you hear thunder, you are within striking distance of the storm.  

Graphic heading says Prepare Now surrounded by a Blue Circle

Before

Graphic heading says Survive During the Hazard surrounded by an Orange Circle

During

Graphic heading says Be Safe After the Hazard surrounded by a Green Circle

After

  • The best way for you to protect yourself from lightning is to avoid the threat.

  • Monitor weather conditions and get to a safe place before the weather becomes threatening.

  • Don’t get caught outside in a severe thunderstorm.

  • Have a lightning safety plan, and cancel or postpone activities early if thunderstorms are expected.

  • Realize that "heat lightning" is just lightning seen from a thunderstorm that is currently too far away for the thunder to be heard, but could be moving closer.

  • If the sky looks threatening or if you hear thunder, get inside a safe place immediately.

National Weather Service yellow and black image of When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors for lightning safety, wait 30 minutes to resume outdoor activities.
National Weather Service info-graphic stating that lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun and can reach temperatures around 50,000 degrees.
  • Seek shelter immediately in a sturdy building or, if a building is not available, a hard-topped vehicle with the windows rolled up.  Rain shelters, small sheds, and open vehicles are not safe.

  • 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.

    • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill, or ridge tops.

    • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. 

    • 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, and metal objects.  Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity.  The current from a lightning flash will easily travel long distances.

    • If you are in a group, spread out to keep electrical current from traveling between group members.

  • If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical care immediately. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning.  However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike, although they may be left with serious and lasting effects. You are in no danger when helping a lightning victim, and you may safely do so immediately.  

  • When indoors, refrain from using corded appliances or other equipment or facilities that put you in contact with electrical systems or plumbing.  

  • Consider turning off and unplugging sensitive electronics to avoid damage from a potential power surge - a spike, or large rapid increase, in the amount of electricity coming through a power line

  • The best way for you to protect yourself from lightning is to avoid the threat.

  • Keep in mind that if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. 

  • Stay inside until the storms have moved away AND thunder is no longer audible.  This is very important, since lightning can and occasionally does strike well away from the thunderstorm itself.

  • Wait 30 minutes after the last lightning strike or sound of thunder before going back outside.

Image showing lighting striking a tree
Image showing golf course after lighting strike
Decorative image of Gumby

Lightning Myths and Facts
 

Myth:  If it isn't raining or there aren’t dark clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.

Fact:  Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud.  “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.  And since light travels faster than sound, lightning can strike well before you hear thunder.

Myth:  If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree.

Fact:  Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.  

 

Myth:  If you're caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch or lie down to reduce your risk of being struck.
Fact:  Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current.  Crouching does not make you any safer.  When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!  If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter.  Run to a substantial building or hard topped vehicle and get inside.  You are not safe anywhere outdoors during a thunderstorm. 

Myth:  Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.
Fact:  Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall, pointy, isolated object.  The Empire State Building is hit by lightning an average of 23 times a year.

Myth:  A lightning victim is electrified.  If you touch them, you can get shocked.
Fact:  The human body does not store electricity.  It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.  Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR! 
When tending to a lightning victim, move yourself and the victim to a safe location as soon as possible.

Myth:  If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.
Fact:  Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough.  No game is worth death or life-long injuries.  Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder.  

Myth:  Lightning is usually attracted to structures with metal, or any metal held or worn on the body (watches, jewelry, cell phones), so if you aren't near metal, you are safe from lightning.
Fact:  Height, shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike.  The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference.  Natural metal-free objects that are tall and isolated, like trees and mountains, get struck by lightning many times a year.  While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct electricity, so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc. during thunderstorms.

Myth:  Lightning electricity can only reach spread out about 20 feet after striking the ground.
Fact:  Radial horizontal arcing has been measured at least 65 feet from the point where lightning hits ground.

Myth:  You are 100% safe from lightning indoors.

Fact:  A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity.  This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, computers, plumbing, metal doors, and windows.   

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