Lightning Awareness Week: Outdoor Lightning Safety

WSAV NOW Weather

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s day three of Lightning Awareness Week and Storm Team 3 is focusing on making sure you stay safe if you are outside during a storm. We also debunk the “rubber tires protect the car if it is struck by lightning” myth.

You are outside and you hear thunder…
what do you do?

First off…when thunder roars, go indoors! Find a sturdy building. A sturdy building on the lowest level in an interior room, away from windows is the safest place you can be during a storm. In fact, there is no place outside where you are 100% safe from lightning or severe weather.

The reason why we say when thunder roars, go indoors is because lightning creates thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Even before or after the storm passes, lightning can still extend about 10-15 miles outside the storm. It’s best to wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to be completely safe.

What if there are no sturdy buildings nearby…

Another safe option is to go into an enclosed vehicle, particularly one with a metal roof. The metal roof part is important.

MYTH: Rubber tires protect the car if it is struck by lightning
TRUTH: It is actually the metal roof and metal sides of the car that protect the car from lightning. Lightning is diverted by the metal frame into the ground. As lightning strikes the vehicle’s metal frame, the electrical current travels around the outside of the vehicle and the current exits the car and into the ground through the tires.

While this is a safer option than standing outside in a thunderstorm, it is still not 100% safe.

At the beach, your risk for being struck by lightning increases. There aren’t as many tall objects for lightning to be attracted to. Swimmers, beach goers, and boaters offer that path of least resistance. Lightning doesn’t strike the ocean as much as land. When it does, it spreads out over the water, which acts as a conductor. It can hit boats that are nearby, and electrocute fish that are near the surface.

Could I hide under a tree to be safe?

No. You can still be struck by lightning. Lightning is attracted to tall objects. Trees are very tall and easy to hit. Stay away from tall, isolated trees. If you are in a forest, find shorter, lower trees to stand near. Also if you are in a group of people during a thunderstorm, spread out to remain safe.

SIDE FLASH/SIDE SPLASH: This one way lightning can strike you if you are standing under a tree. As lightning hits a tree near you, a portion of the electrical current could jump from the tree to you.

National Weather Service:
5 Different Ways Lightning Can Strike You

According to the National Weather Service, this generally occurs when you are within one to two feet of a tree.

GROUND CURRENT: As lightning strikes a tree or object, much of its energy travels outward and along the object and into the ground. Anyone near the tree or object could be struck through the ground…hence the name.

Lightning enters the body from the ground to the closest contact point. If you are standing under a tree, this would be your feet. It then exits your body at the contact point farthest away from your feet. In other words, the electrical current travels from your feet and out your head.

Last Outside Resort During Thunderstorm

If you are in an open field during a thunderstorm with on where else to go to protect yourself, you’ll want to get as low as you can to the ground. Crouch as low as you can to the ground with your hands over your head. Remember to make sure your head doesn’t touch the ground.

Just like the ground current when a tree is struck by lightning…if lightning strikes the ground, the electrical current will flow out of the center and towards you if you are within that area.

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