TIPS: How to stay safe when thunder and lightning strike

Mike Nicco Image
ByMike Nicco KGO logo
Friday, August 4, 2017
VIDEO: Lightning electrifies East Bay skies
Lightning electrified East Bay skies Thursday night as showers moved through parts of the area.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- You can't have one (thunder) without the other (lightning). One sounds ominous the other is deadly. The CDC says you can protect yourself from risk even if you are caught outdoors when lightning is close by with these tips:

Safety precautions outdoors

  • If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity.
  • Remember: When thunder roars, go indoors. Find a safe, enclosed shelter.
  • The main lightning safety guide is the 30-30 rule. After you see lightning, start counting to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, go indoors. Suspend activities for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
  • If no shelter is available, crouch low, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible. Lightning causes electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away.
  • Stay away from concrete floors or walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
  • Although you should move into a non-concrete structure if possible, being indoors does not automatically protect you from lightning. In fact, about one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors.

Safety precautions indoors

  • Avoid water during a thunderstorm. Lightning can travel through plumbing.
  • Avoid electronic equipment of all types. Lightning can travel through electrical systems and radio and television reception systems.
  • Avoid corded phones. However, cordless or cellular phones are safe to use during a storm.
  • Avoid concrete floors and walls.
  • Lightning strikes may be rare, but they still happen and the risk of serious injury or death is severe. So take thunderstorms seriously.

Want to know more? Check out these lightning facts from ABC7 News Meteorologist Mike Nicco:

Lightning Odds

  • The odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. in any single year is 1 in 700,000.
  • The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 5,000.
  • From 1959 through 2016 lightning killed 34 Californians, ranking 32nd out of 50 states.
  • Using an umbrella in a thunderstorm slightly increases your odds of being struck.
  • If your hair stands on end during a storm, that's a bad sign. It means positive charge is building up around you and your chances of being struck are extremely high.

Lightning Science

  • A single lightning bolt is about 50,000F or 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • A lightning bolt is anywhere from 1,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 volts and between 10,000 and 200,000 amps. Or about 215 kWh (kilowatt hours).
  • There are two types of lightning; negative strikes and positive strikes. Positive strikes are 5 times more powerful than negative strikes and positive charge flows instead of negative.
  • The average lightning bolt could light a 100 watt light bulb non-stop for about 3 months.
  • The average lightning bolt is 6 miles long.
  • The thickness of a lightning bolt is about the size of a silver dollar. It only looks bigger because it is so bright.
  • A lightning bolt is made of a series of strokes, about 3 to 20, with an average of about four. The duration of each lightning bolt can vary, but typically average about 30 microseconds.
  • The US Department of Energy says the speed of lightning is 93,000 miles per second, although the light produced travels at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second).

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