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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 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.

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

  • Unplug sensitive electronics to avoid damage from potential power surges due to lightning - a spike, or large rapid increase in the amount of electricity coming through a power line can destroy wiring and connected equipment.

  • 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 and any tall objects. 

    • If you are camping, set up camp in a valley, ravine, or other low area.  A tent offers NO protection from lighting.

    • Stay away from water, wet items, and metal objects.  They are excellent conductors of electricity and lightning current can 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 immediately to get medical care.  Cardiac arrest, burns, and nerve damage are common in these cases; but with proper medical treatment, including CPR if needed, most victims survive.  You are not in any danger of shock from helping a lightning victim.  

  • 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:  “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles away from the rain and clouds of a thunderstorm.  And since light travels faster than sound, lightning can strike well before you hear thunder.

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

Fact:  Stay away from tall things like trees.  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 deadly ground current.  Crouching does not make you any safer.  When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!  If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, 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! 
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's electrical current can only spread 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 as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity.  This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, computers, plumbing, metal doors, and windows.   

Lightning Fatalities by State.jpg
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