Summer weather means warmth, sunshine and increased time spent outdoors exercising and enjoying life. It also means peak thunderstorm activity across the northern hemisphere and specifically in the United States. You combine these factors and the outcome is increased danger from lightning strikes.

Already by late July, in the United States, there has been 22 lightning fatalities in 2015. NOAA and Weather Ready Nation sent out notice last week to Weather Ready Nation Ambassadors to publish lightning awareness articles. This is one of those. Why you ask? Because, in this day and age of information and technology, most, if not all, lightning fatalities can be avoided. To help explain. Here is a chart of 2015 lightning fatalities through July 17th:

US Lightning Deaths in 2015

There is a lot of information in that chart. First and foremost, the unfortunate victims of lightning. You don’t have to dig too deep to realize that most of these victims were young men and nearly all of the activities were leisurely – they didn’t have to be outside. It cannot be repeated enough that “When thunder roars, go indoors”. The National Weather Service has promoted that for years.

In fact, it is no surprise that leisurely activities are most common in lightning fatalities. From 2006 to 2014, 287 people in the United States have died from lightning strikes. Here is a chart provided by the National Weather Service to show what the victims were doing:

Lightning Fatalities By Activity 2015

Nearly two thirds of victims did not have to be outside. In fact, I would say that 100% of victims didn’t have to be outside.

So, lets look at some steps to increase your safety when outdoors during the warmer months of the year. First, have a general idea about the weather forecast. Plan accordingly. If you want to hike in the mountains, above treeline and far away from shelter, revise your hike if there is a chance of storms. If you hear thunder, get indoors. If you can’t here are places to avoid:

Places to Avoid
  1. Hills, Mountains or high spots
  2. Trees
  3. Picnic Shelters or Canopies
  4. Electrical Lines
  5. Open Fields
  6. Open Water/ Pools
  7. Beaches

The best location to minimize a lightning strike is a sturdy building, away from windows, and not using electronics or water. The second best location is inside a car with a hard roof and the windows rolled up. Rubber tires do not protect you from lightning. It is the metal frame of the car that carries the charge and disperses it into the ground. As long as you are inside the car and not touching the outer metal frame, you are safe.

So, when you hear thunder, get indoors. Lightning can strike more than 6 miles away. You can discover the distance of lightning by counting seconds after a flash. Keep counting until you hear the clap of thunder. Every five seconds equals one mile. If you hear thunder less than thirty seconds after seeing lightning, it is 6 miles or closer. Which means you can be struck by lightning. One final lightning safety tip: Stay indoors for thirty minutes after the last clap of thunder. If you are more weather aware and weather informed, you are more weather safe. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Member Of

  • American Meteorological Society
  • Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials
  • National Weather Association
  • Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association
  • National Council of Industrial Meteorologists
  • Southeast Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership, Inc.