Lightning Safety – Severe Weather Awareness Week

Severe Weather Awareness Week continues here at Tennessee Valley Weather, and today’s topic is Lightning Safety. Because of the simple definition of what a thunderstorm is, lightning is a concern with EVERY thunderstorm, whether it is severe warned or not. While the parent storm probably won’t strike without warning, individual lightning bolts are random and instantaneous and can strike miles away from the center of the storm, making lightning a very significant hazard that we deal with here in the Tennessee Valley. Here are some general safety tips and guidelines concerning lightning safety.

The most dangerous place to be in a thunderstorm is outside. The NWS slogan for lightning safety is “When thunder roars, go indoors!”…. and it doesn’t get much more simple than that. If you are close enough to a storm to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Head indoors immediately and stay away from windows, metal piping, corded phones, etc., until after the storm has passed. If you can’t get to safe shelter inside but a vehicle is nearby, if the vehicle is hard-topped, it will offer protection in most cases. The metal frame of the car will take the shock of the lightning bolt and then divert it down into the ground. It’s NOT the rubber tires that offer protection! Get inside the vehicle, closing all doors and windows, and be sure not to be touching any metal portion of the vehicle. It’s not the best option, but it will do if you have no other alternative nearby! A convertible vehicle offers no protection from lightning! Do not take shelter in such a vehicle. If you are caught outdoors without a good place to shelter, crouch down low (think of how you would do in a tornado drill) and preferably while being in a low spot away from ridges and hills. The main objective is to try to make yourself out to be not one of the tallest objects around. Because of this, avoid open fields, trees, power lines, and other tall objects as much as you possibly can.

Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, and that means bodies of water are very dangerous places to be during thunderstorms. If a storm approaches while you are out on the river, at the lake, or at the beach… stop all outdoor activities immediately ahead and head for safety! Keep in mind that lightning can also strike miles away from a storm. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE RAINING WHERE YOU ARE FOR YOU TO BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING!

Once the storm has passed by your location, wait 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder before resuming any outdoor activities. If you hear thunder while counting that 30 minutes, begin the countdown again. This is to ensure that the storm is far enough away from your location that lightning is no longer a risk.

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