Thunderstorms and Lightning

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Thunderstorms and lightning storms can be beautiful to watch (from a safe distance and location), but they also pose a threat. Large hail often accompanies thunderstorms which can damage homes and vehicles. Strong winds are also prevalent with thunderstorms, causing power outages, downed power lines and trees, and damage to roofs. 

Lightning is ruled as the cause of many wildfires, which can devastate large areas. Also, it is the second leading cause of storm related deaths. An estimated 1000 people are struck by lightning each year in the U.S.; however, only 10% are killed. Survivors of lightning strikes can suffer life-long disabilities.

Facts about thunderstorms
  • They may occur singly, in clusters, or in lines.
  • Some of the most severe storms occur when a single thunderstorm affects one location for an extended time.
  • Thunderstorms typically produce heavy rain for a brief period, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Warm, humid conditions are highly favor able for thunderstorms to develop.
  • About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe one that produces hail at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, or produces a tornado.
  • Facts about lightning
  • Lightning’s unpredictability increases the risk to individuals and property.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
  • “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.
  • Lightning-strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately.
Know the Terms
  • Severe Thunderstorm Watches are issued when a thunderstorm is likely to occur in an area. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, commercial radio, or television for information.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
Before Thunderstorms and Lightning
  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury during a severe thunderstorm.
  • Remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
  • Postpone outdoor activities.
  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although it is possible you might be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Remember, 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.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds or curtains.
  • Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Use a corded telephone only 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.
Avoid the following:
  • Natural lightning rods such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area
  • Hilltops, open fields, the beach, or a boat on the water
  • Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas
  • Anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, and bicycles
During a Thunderstorm
  • If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
  • If you are in an open area, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.
  • If you are on open water, Get to land and find shelter immediately.
  • If you feel your hair stand on end (which implies 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.
After a Thunderstorm

If someone is struck by lightning call 9-1-1 for medical assistance as soon as possible.





The Hazard-Specific Information section was created using information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Association, and American Red Cross.