Lightning can strike up to ten miles from the area in which it is raining, even if you don’t see clouds. This means that if you can hear thunder, you’re within striking distance. A good idea is to use the ‘30-30 Rule.’ According to this rule, if you count less than 30 seconds between a lightning flash and the thunder following it, you should seek shelter from the storm. A smart thing to do is count your 30 seconds inside away from all threatening weather. When the storm is over, wait thirty minutes after the last lightning strike you see before going back outside.
If you are caught outdoors during a thunderstorm and unable to take shelter in a building, take the following precautions:
- Try to take shelter in a vehicle with a solid metal roof. Close the windows and avoid contact with electrical conducting paths, such as the steering wheel, ignition, gear shifter, or radio.
- Avoid water, high ground, or open spaces.
- Do not seek shelter under tall, solitary trees; canopies; small picnic or rain shelters; or in any open-frame vehicles such as jeeps, convertibles, golf carts, tractors or mowers
- Do not stand near power, light or flag poles, machinery, fences, gates, metal bleachers, or even other people. If you are in a group, spread out so that you are at least twenty feet apart.
- If your skin tingles or your hair stands on end, lightning may be about to strike. Squat down low to the ground with your head between your knees making yourself the smallest target possible.
Once you take shelter in a building, use the following precautions to avoid lightning shock and damage:
- Stay away from doors and windows with the shades drawn.
- Use only cordless or cell phones to make emergency calls. Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the U.S. A direct strike is not necessary for lightning voltage to enter your home through phone lines, electrical wires, cables and plumbing.
- Turn off and unplug appliances well before a storm nears – never during. Don’t expect a surge protector to save appliances from a lightning strike; unplug it as well.
- Stay away from electrical outlets, appliances, computers, power tools, and TV sets. Take off headsets and stop playing video games.
- Turn off your air conditioner to protect the compressor from a power surge and avoid a costly repair job.
- Avoid water and contact with piping, including sinks, baths and faucets. Don’t wash dishes, shower or bathe during a thunderstorm. Also avoid washers and dryers since they not only connect with the plumbing and electrical systems, but also contain an electrical path from the outside through the dryer vent.
- Do not lie on the concrete floor of a garage as it likely contains a wire mesh.
- Basements typically are a safe place to go during thunderstorms, but avoid concrete walls that may contain metal rebar.
- Don't forget your pets. Dog houses are not lightning-safe and dogs chained to trees can easily fall victim to a strike.
- If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and care for the victim immediately. You are not in danger of being electrocuted by the victim.
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