Lightning Safety: Separating Fact From Fiction

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This week is Lightning Safety Awareness Week--a good time to ask yourself if you know how to separate fact from fiction when protecting your family from lightning strikes.

10TV was on the Ohio State campus in 2012 when school employees were cleaning up from a lightning strike.

Lightning hit Stillman Hall, causing bricks from the building to fall to the ground.

But could it happen to that building again? Can lightning strike the same place twice?

The answer is "yes."

Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if the object is something tall, pointy and isolated like a downtown skyscraper.

For example, the Empire State Building is hit by lightning more than 100 times each year according to the National Weather Service.

But what if the storm has passed and skies are clearing? Are you safe from lightning when the rain stops?

The answer is "no."

Even when the rain has ended, lightning can strike several miles or more from the thunderstorm cloud.

A good rule of thumb is to wait 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder before going back outside.

Seeking shelter inside is the best bet in a storm, but are you 100% safe from lightning in your home?

That answer is also "no.”

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 and computers.

But it doesn't stop there inside the home.

Since lightning can travel though metal plumbing, be sure to avoid taking showers or baths during a thunderstorm.

Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

That means you don't want to lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls


Here is a list of more lightning facts and safety tips courtesy of the National Weather Service:

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 51 lightning fatalities per year.
  • 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 261 instances from 2006-2013, 81% of lightning fatalities were male and 19% were female).

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Don't lean on doors during a thunderstorm.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
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, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

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. Adults are responsible for the safety of children.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones,Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter – don’t waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.