A lightning storm can rival fireworks on the Fourth of July. While it can be a sight and sound extravaganza, it's deadly dangerous. According to the National Weather Service, an average of 54 people die of lightning strikes each year while many more are permanently injured. Many people are struck while enjoying an outdoor activity like golf or baseball.
The peak season for lightning storms is hot summer, but lightning can occur any time of year. Because lightning may travel as far as 20 miles before touching down, the minute you hear thunder you are at risk, even though the sun is shining and there's not a cloud in the sky.
Protect yourself from this bolt from the blue
Thunder is the result of the heat of the lightning heating the air around it. Since sound travels more slowly than light, you may see the lightning flash before you hear the bang of thunder. The minute you hear the grumble of thunder in the distance, start seeking shelter in a safe, sturdy building or in a car with a hard top. If the delay between the flash and the bang is less than 30 seconds, move quickly to safety.
Extremely dangerous places during lightning storms are open fields and tops of hills, under a tree or any tall object, picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, stadium bleachers, metal fences and any water including swimming pools.
Once you're safely sheltered, avoid using any electrical appliance, phone or computer with a cord. That's because lightning, which follows the path of least resistance to the ground, will jump to the best conductor of electricity it can find, often metal. All the power behind the strike can run into the building through electrical and cable TV wiring. It's the same for water pipes. Wait for 30 minutes after the storm is over to take a bath or shower, wash your hands or do the dishes. Also stay away from surfaces that conduct electricity such as metal doors or window frames. If you don't, you could get the shock of your life!
Lightning flash facts