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Lightning Safety

An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society
(Adopted by the AMS Council on 11 July 2018)

The American Meteorological Society wants the American public to understand the serious hazard posed by lightning and what it needs to do to be safe. All of us, and especially people responsible for the safety of others, need to be well informed about lightning safety. Operators of large venues need to have lightning-safety plans and establish lightning-safety procedures.

Lightning is the third-leading cause of storm-related deaths in the United States (after floods and tornadoes). About 300 people are struck each year in the United States. Of those, about 30 people are killed while some others suffer lifelong, debilitating injuries. Fortunately, the vast majority of lightning deaths and injuries can be prevented by following several simple guidelines. This policy statement is intended as a short summary of the current consensus among those actively involved in lightning safety for both individuals and groups.

Public education can reduce lightning casualties in the United States. The meteorological community needs to continue its efforts to raise public awareness of the lightning hazard and motivate people to practice good lightning safety. Given the relative ease, low cost, and great effectiveness of the lightning-safety guidelines, we call on all meteorologists, especially those within the broadcast, public education, and emergency preparedness communities, to promote lightning-safety education. Presenting a consistent, science-based approach is important. The emphasis of these efforts should be for people to reach a safe place before the lightning threat arrives. Most lightning casualties in the United States occur near lightning-safe locations, so people need to react quickly to the developing threat to reach a safe place. If people would head to a lightning-safe location just a few minutes earlier, lightning casualties in the United States could be significantly reduced.

The following are recommendations for the public to follow.

Before the storm:

  • Schedule outdoor activities being mindful of the lightning threat.
  • Before going outdoors, check the forecast for thunderstorms.
  • If thunderstorms are forecast, consider postponing or cancelling outdoor activities.

While outside:

  • Have a lightning-safety plan
  • Know when and where to go for safety. Allow time to reach a lightning-safe location.
  • Monitor radar and/or lightning data for developing or approaching storms.
  • If the skies start to look threatening or you hear thunder, go inside a safe place immediately.

While inside:

  • Avoid anything electrical that plugs into the wall.
  • Avoid plumbing.
  • Avoid corded phones.
  • Wait 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning before going outside.

Safe places:

  • A substantial building that has wiring and plumbing.
  • A hard-topped metal vehicle.

If you are not in a safe place:

  • Head toward safety as fast as you can because neither crouching nor lying flat on the ground is recommended.
  • Avoid open or exposed areas.
  • Leave the water.
  • Do not stand under tall or isolated trees or near tall objects.
  • There may be nothing you can do to avoid being struck.

If someone is struck:

  • Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to touch.
  • Call 9-1-1 for help.
  • Begin CPR, if necessary.
  • Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED), if available.

Important points to remember:

  • Lightning strikes produce ground currents in the area surrounding a lightning strike.
  • Ground currents are responsible for most lightning deaths and injuries.
  • Lightning tends to strike the tallest object in the immediate area but can strike anywhere.
  • Open areas are the most dangerous because of the threat of a direct strike.

Helpful lightning-safety slogans:

  • NO Place Outside Is Safe when Thunderstorms Are in the Area.
  • When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!
  • Half an Hour since Thunder Roars, Now It’s Safe to Go Outdoors!

More information is available online on the National Weather Service lightning-safety website (www.weather.gov/safety/lightning).

[This statement is considered in force until July 2023 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]