What to do if you are outside during a thunderstorm.

I know you are probably anxiously awaiting Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the unofficial start to summer, and many of you are ready to enjoy and unplug during a long weekend! You probably already have outdoor plans, like a backyard BBQ, heading to the lake, or maybe even a family hike. When you have outdoor plans, it is imperative that you know the weather forecast, especially this time of year.

Quick forecast discussion- Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday all hold a thunderstorm chance for the Tennessee Valley. In fact, Sunday holds the potential for strong to severe thunderstorms. We have another blog post about that risk, and we will have more updates throughout the week.

Let me be clear: if there are thunderstorms in the forecast, I would strongly advise against outdoor plans. I get it. You’ve had these plans for weeks. People are coming in from out of town. “The chances are not that high.” The river is your therapy. The last thing you want to do is cancel your plans. We can’t make you do one thing or another, no matter what we advise. If you are going to do it anyway, here are some things I would like you to think about.

  • Check the forecast. Then check it again. Especially during summertime, the forecast can change significantly from the night before to the morning of. Always have the most up to date weather information if you have outdoor plans.
  • When thunder roars, go indoors. This is a basic elementary rule of thumb. If you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough for lightning to strike your location.
  • Have a way to receive current, real-time weather alerts. I may be biased, but may I suggest our FREE Tennessee Valley Weather app? Search our name in your app store (Android). Once you’ve downloaded the app, make sure you allow your location to be shared and turn on notifications. You will get notifications of weather information like severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, lightning proximity, and you can also watch our live coverage, regular forecast videos, and look at radar yourself. I mean, it really is a one stop shop. You’ll get these alerts right to your smartphone, specific to your exact location, as long as you have cellphone service. If you don’t have service, that’s when the above point comes in handy. Even if you are outside of the viewing area, you will still receive alerts. A portable NOAA Weather Radio is also a great option!

Have a shelter plan. Before you set off on your hike or start up the boat, be aware of your proximity to nearest shelter at all times. Indoors is best, inside a vehicle is ok if the only threat is lightning. Inside a vehicle is better than under a pavilion or awning. Make sure you are not the tallest object, wherever you are.


  • Stay away from water and metal. Both are conductors of electricity.
  • An average boat is not safe during a thunderstorm.
  • Avoid open fields
  • Avoid high elevations
  • Avoid trees and other tall objects.
  • Lightning tends to strike the tallest object in a space.

Personal Anecdote- My family and I spent many summers on my grandfather’s boat on a lake in Arkansas. One day, we knew thunderstorms were in the forecast, but we went out on the water anyway. Me being the weather nerd I was (and still am, of course) I knew a thunderstorm was on the way toward us. I told everyone we need to get back to the boat dock and we headed that way. The storm was on our tail the whole time, but we made it off the boat. Not even five minutes later, we were all in out vehicles and the storm hit. The thunderstorm ended up producing a microburst and flipped dozens of boats and even tore up and flipped some of the docks right before our eyes. It was terrifying, even more so thinking we were just minutes away from still being out on the water.

Like I said above, if thunderstorms are in the forecast, please reconsider your outdoor plans. We can’t make your decisions for you, and your safety is our top priority no matter what. Consider the contents of this post. And you never know, a surprise July thunderstorm may catch you off guard. My rule of thumb? Better safe than sorry.

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