MidWest SSTRC Logo
Tornado Graphic

Weather Center

Weather Safety

Training Material

Reporting Criteria

Newsletters & Links

Support & Donations

Video Gallery

Join MidWest!

About MidWest



Media Point

Contact Us

Members' Area

Counties at a glance:
An error occured


Weather Safety - Lightning

Lightning Safety Outdoors

Each year, about 400 children and adults in the U.S. are struck by lightning while working outside, at sports events, on the beach, mountain climbing, mowing the lawn or during other outdoor activities. About 67 people are killed and several hundred more are left to cope with permanent disabilities. Many of these tragedies can be avoided. Finishing the game, getting a tan, or completing a work shift isn’t worth death or crippling injury.

  • All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous. Lightning kills more people each year than tornadoes.
  • Lightning often strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Many deaths from lightning occur ahead of the storm because people try and wait to the last minute before seeking shelter.
  • You are in danger from lightning if you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough that it could strike your location at any moment.
  • Lightning injuries can lead to permanent disabilities or death. On average, 10% of strike victims die; 70% of survivors suffer serious long term effects.
  • Look for dark cloud bases and increasing wind. Every flash of lightning is dangerous, even the first. Head to safety before that first flash. If you hear thunder, head to safety!
  • Blue Skies and Lightning. Lightning can travel sideways for up to 10 miles. Even when the sky looks blue and clear, be cautious. If you hear thunder, take cover. At least 10% of lightning occurs without visible clouds overhead in the sky.

The Single Most Dangerous Place

Outdoors is the most dangerous place to be during a lightning storm. When lightning is seen or thunder is heard, or when dark clouds are observed, quickly move indoors or into a hard-topped vehicle and remain there until well after the lightning storm ends. Listen to forecasts and warnings through NOAA Weather Radio or your local TV and radio stations. If lightning is forecast, plan an alternate activity or know where you can take cover quickly.

The U.S. lightning season is summer but lightning can strike year round! The Fourth of July is historically one of the most deadly times of the year for lightning. In summer, more people are outside, on the beach, golf course, mountains or ball fields. Outdoor jobs such as construction and agriculture, and outdoor chores such as lawn mowing or house painting are at their peak, putting those involved in danger.

Safety Rules

1.       Postpone activities promptly. Don't wait for rain. Many people take shelter from the rain, but most people struck by lightning are not in the rain! Go quickly inside a completely enclosed building, not a carport, open garage or covered patio. If no enclosed building is convenient, get inside a hard-topped all-metal vehicle. A cave is a good option outside but move as far as possible from the cave entrance.

2.       Be the lowest point. Lightning hits the tallest object. In the mountains if you are above tree line, you ARE the highest object around. Quickly get below tree line and get into a grove of small trees. Don't be the second tallest object during a lightning storm! Crouch down if you are in an exposed area.

3.       Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing wind, which may be signs of an approaching thunderstorm.

4.       Listen for the sound of thunder. If you can hear thunder, go to a safe shelter immediately.

5.       If you see or hear a thunderstorm coming or your hair stands on end, immediately suspend your game or practice and instruct everyone to go inside a sturdy building or car. Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be. Avoid sheds, picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, and bleachers. If no sturdy building is nearby, a hard-top vehicle with windows closed will offer some protection. The steel frame of the vehicle provides some protection if you are not touching metal.

6.       Listen to NOAA Weather Radio. Coaches and other leaders should listen for a tone-alert feature during practice sessions and games.

7.       If you can't get to a shelter, stay away from trees. If there is no shelter, crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from a tree as it is tall.

8.       Avoid leaning against vehicles. Get off bicycles and motorcycles.

9.       Get out of the water. It's a great conductor of electricity. Stay off the beach and out of small boats or canoes. If caught in a boat, crouch down in the center of the boat away from metal hardware. Swimming, wading, snorkeling and scuba diving are NOT safe. Lightning can strike the water and travel some distance beneath and away from its point of contact. Don’t stand in puddles of water, even if wearing rubber boots.

10.    Avoid metal! Drop metal backpacks, stay away from clothes lines, fences, exposed sheds and electrically conductive elevated objects. Don't hold on to metal items such golf clubs, fishing rods, tennis rackets or tools. Large metal objects can conduct lightning. Small metal objects can cause burns.

11.    Move away from a group of people. Stay several yards away from other people. Don't share a bleacher bench or huddle in a group.

Lightning Safety on the Water

Before going boating, fishing, diving or enjoying other water sports or going out for business, check the forecast. If severe weather is predicted, stay home. If you must go out, take a radio and monitor forecasts. Return to shore as soon as possible if a storm is predicted. If you caught out in a storm, here's what do to:

  • Divers are safer going deep for the duration of the storm or as long as possible. Lightning hits the surface and you are relatively safe if you dive.
  • Get a lightning protection system for your boat or ship. See the University of Florida link below for more information.
  • Stay in the center of the cabin if the boat is so designed. If no enclosure is available, stay low. Don't be a "stand-up human" lightning mast!
  • Keep arms and legs in the boat. Do not dangle them in the water.
  • Stop fishing, water skiing, swimming or other water activities when there is lightning or even when weather conditions look threatening. The first lightning strike can be a mile or more in front of an approaching thunderstorm cloud.
  • Disconnect and do not use or touch the major electronic equipment, including the radio, throughout the duration of the storm.
  • Lower, remove or tie down the radio antenna and other protruding devices if they are not part of the lightning protection system.
  • To the degree possible, avoid making contact with any portion of the boat connected to the lightning protection system. Never be in contact with two components connected to the system at the same time. Example: The gear levers and spotlight handle are both connected to the system. Should you have a hand on both when lightning strikes, the possibility of electrical current passing through your body from hand to hand are great. The path of the electrical current would be directly through your heart--a very deadly path!
  • It would be desirable to have individuals aboard who are competent in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid. Many individuals struck by lightning or exposed to excessive electrical current can be saved with prompt and proper artificial respiration and/or CPR. There is no danger in touching persons after they have been struck by lightning.
  • If a boat has been, or is suspected of having been, struck by lightning, check out the electrical system and the compasses to insure that no damage has occurred.

Here are some links on boating and lightning:

http://www.marinelightning.com/   Marine Lightning Protection

http://www.thomson.ece.ufl.edu/lightning/  University of Florida: Boating and Lightning

http://www.cdc.gov/nasd/docs/d000001-d000100/d000007/d000007.html   National Ag Safety Database

What to do if someone is struck by lightning:

  • Call for help. Call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service. Get medical attention as quickly as possible.
  • Give first aid. If the victim has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR. If the person has a pulse and is breathing, address any other injuries.
  • Check for burns in two places. The injured person has received an electric shock and may be burned. Being struck by lightning can also cause nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing or eyesight. People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge that can shock other people. You can examine them without risk.

Stay Informed About the Storm

Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local media for the latest severe thunderstorm WATCHES and WARNINGS. Severe thunderstorms are those storms with winds in excess of 58 mph or hail larger than 3/4 inches in diameter. When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm WATCH is issued.

Weather Service personnel use information from weather radar, satellite, lightning detection, spotters, and other sources to issue severe thunderstorm WARNINGS for areas where severe weather is imminent. Remember, however, that ALL thunderstorms produce deadly lightning.



Lighting Safety Awareness Week: June 19-25, 2005
 NOOA Lightning Safety Team  made up of government and private sector businesses, has won the 2003 Annual Lightning Safety Recognition Award from the National Lightning Safety Institute in Louisville, CO.


Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning. Safeguarding U.S. residents from dangerous lightning is the goal of this Website. The campaign is designed to lower lightning death and injury rates and America's vulnerability to one of nature's deadliest hazards.

In the United States, averages of 67 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2003 there were 44 deaths. That's more than the annual number of people killed by tornadoes or hurricanes. Many more are struck but survive. However, they often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, and stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long.

Lightning is a serious danger. Through this site we hope you'll learn more about lightning risks and how to protect yourself, loved ones and your belongings.


In Wisconsin, lightning struck a man holding a tent metal pole, resulting in serious injuries. The bolt injured 7 nearby people who were standing in ankle deep water. Six of the eight people were hospitalized.