Lightning Safety Tips

June 24 to 30 is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week for 2018. Lightning kills an around 47 people in the U.S. each year. Hundreds more are severely injured and more than $730 Million in property damage is caused. Texas consistently ranks number two in the nation for fatalities and home lightning strike insurance claims.

In 2013, for example, Citizens of the Lone Star State filed 9,098 lightning-related claims in 2016. Claims averaged $9,580 and totaled $87.2 million. Here are the stats by month and by time of day for lightning in Southeast Texas from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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Spring Fire Department Deputy Chief Scott Schoonover says when lightning is a factor, “Unplug electrical devices such as TVs and computers. During an electrical storm, suspend any potentially dangerous activities for 30 minutes after the last observed thunder or lightning. When outside, don’t go into pools and avoid water. Avoid being under any canopies, small picnic shelters or near any trees. Try to find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed vehicle, such as a car, truck or van, with the windows shut.”

But,even inside a building there are risks. There are three main ways lightning enters structures — through a direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, and through the ground.

Here are some safety tips from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). First and foremost, it’s important to remember — “When thunder roars, go indoors!” The National Weather Service tracks lightning fatalities. You can find that and other facts here.

Lightning: What You Need to Know

  • NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
  • When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
  • Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder. If you can hear thunder you are close enough to be hit by lightning.

Indoor Lightning Safety

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls. (Lightning can travel through metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring)

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips

  • If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:
  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)
  • If you are caught in an open area, crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears. Lightning causes electric currents on top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away
  • If you are in a group during a thunderstorm, separate from each other. This should reduce the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more tips and information on lightning here.

For home and business protection, the Lightning Protection Institute advocates a return to a modern version of an old technology, namely lightning rods.

Installing a lightning protection system on your home won’t prevent lightning from striking, but it can guide a strike safely into the ground.

Such systems typically cost between $1,500 and $4,500 to install. You can find a qualified installer by visiting the Lighting Protection Institute’s website.