Skip Navigation Linkwww.nws.noaa.gov 
NOAA logo - Click to go to the NOAA homepage National Weather Service   NWS logo - Click to go to the NWS homepage
Lightning Safety Program
   
Partners/Links
Contact Us
USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.

September 6, 2013

Last night, the National Football League season started with--no, not a kickoff--but a lightning delay. While I can't imagine anyone particularly enjoyed the 34-minute delay, I commend those in charge at the NFL for making the right decision to delay the game. When this decision was made, potentially deadly cloud-to-ground lightning was observed only a few miles from the stadium. During the past 13 years, since the National Weather Service and NOAA started a nationwide campaign to reduce lightning deaths in the United States, decisions to delay or postpone outdoor activities have likely saved hundreds of lives.

In fact, 13 years ago, the United States averaged 73 deaths per year from lightning (30-year average). Now, that 30-year average is down to 53 deaths per year. More recently, during the past 5 years, this country has averaged only 29 lightning fatalities. In part, the reduction in lightning deaths can be attributed to better awareness of the lightning danger, which, in turn, has led to more informed and better decisions. Last night's delay was an example of an informed decision based on good lightning and lightning safety information. In addition, the NFL's decision to delay the game due to a thunderstorm in the area reinforces NOAA's message that lightning is dangerous and that people need to seek shelter whenever a thunderstorm is in the area--there is no place outside that is safe!

While the NFL got the players safely off the field, many fans opted not to take shelter from the lightning threat. In addition, several network broadcasters remained on the field despite the lightning delay. For the fans, the information on the stadium's message board did not really provide the public with appropriate risk information. It said, "If you feel the need, take cover in a sheltered area." A better message would have been, "For your safety, take cover in a sheltered area immediately." As for the broadcasters, being out on the field holding wired microphones and standing under large umbrellas not only put them at risk, but also sent the wrong message to their viewers and to the people in the stadium. Everything they said on the field could have been said from the safety of their booth.

Those in charge of stadiums and large venues play a vital role in keeping participants, officials, workers, and spectators safe during hazardous weather events. We've developed resources such as the Lightning Safety Toolkit for Outdoor Venues to help all these groups prepare for the threat of lightning. The media also plays an important role in getting the appropriate safety information out to the public. We appreciate all that they do to keep people informed and safe from this potential killer.

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA

June 7, 2013

The recent lightning strike during a rain delay at Yankees stadium demonstrates why people get killed by lightning. Video from the game showed that some of the players from both teams (the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees) remained in the dugout during the thunderstorm --that is, until there was a lightning strike in the immediate vicinity. Fortunately, in this case, no one was killed or injured. But the end results could have been quite different if that strike had been near either dugout or on the field. It's important to remember that dugouts, rain shelters and small sheds are just not safe during thunderstorms. People need to get inside a substantial building or a hard-topped metal vehicle to be safe.

Like the players in the dugout, people often wait for the first nearby lightning strike before seeking safety. That type of behavior could cost you your life, and, unfortunately, has led to numerous lightning deaths and injuries over the years. Hopefully, everyone can learn from this incident that you don't wait to get to a safe place. The players were lucky this time. So were the ground crew and any fans that remained outside. Next time, they may not be so lucky. Let's hope that next time everyone gets to a safe place before lightning strikes nearby.

May 17, 2013

The lightning season has begun across most of the United States and we're headed toward the deadliest time of the year. June, July, and August are the peak months for both lightning and lightning fatalities. Often, I am asked the question: What should a person do if they are caught outside in a thunderstorm? This is a difficult question to answer because, if you’re outside, there may be little or nothing you can do to prevent being killed or injured by a nearby lightning strike. Of course, if at all possible, get to substantial building or hard-topped metal vehicle as quickly as you can. If you can't get to safety, you should avoid situations that increase the risk of being stuck: don't be out in an open area; don't stand under or near tall or isolated objects like trees; and don't lie flat on the ground.

If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, think about what you can do so it doesn't happen again. Always listen to the latest forecast and adjust your activities accordingly. If at all possible, plan outdoor activities for the morning hours when thunderstorms are less likely. If you do head out, have a plan so that you can get to a safe place in case a thunderstorm develops. While outside, keep an eye on the sky and be ready to head to safety at the first signs of a developing or approaching storm. Above all, remember that the sound of thunder (even a distant rumble), indicates that you are likely within striking distance of the storm and need to get to a safe place immediately. Once there, wait 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning before returning outside. Remember…When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

October 4, 2012

The lightning season has begun across most of the United States and we're headed toward the deadliest time of the year. June, July, and August are the peak months for both lightning and lightning fatalities. Often, I am asked the question: What should a person do if they are caught outside in a thunderstorm? This is a difficult question to answer because, if you’re outside, there may be little or nothing you can do to prevent being killed or injured by a nearby lightning strike. Of course, if at all possible, get to substantial building or hard-topped metal vehicle as quickly as you can. If you can't get to safety, you should avoid situations that increase the risk of being stuck: don't be out in an open area; don't stand under or near tall or isolated objects like trees; and don't lie flat on the ground.

If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, think about what you can do so it doesn't happen again. Always listen to the latest forecast and adjust your activities accordingly. If at all possible, plan outdoor activities for the morning hours when thunderstorms are less likely. If you do head out, have a plan so that you can get to a safe place in case a thunderstorm develops. While outside, keep an eye on the sky and be ready to head to safety at the first signs of a developing or approaching storm. Above all, remember that the sound of thunder (even a distant rumble), indicates that you are likely within striking distance of the storm and need to get to a safe place immediately. Once there, wait 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning before returning outside. Remember…When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

August 9, 2012

Unfortunately, we have now reached 21 lightning fatalities for the year, with several victims from July and August last reported in critical condition. The 12 fatalities in July are the most seen during that month since 2008.  While the count is currently only two fatalities ahead of last year's pace (which was the lowest ever recorded), the number of recent lightning incidents is a disturbing. Recent media coverage of the latest incidents has raised awareness to the dangers of lightning. Here are a few statistics for this year to date:

  • 67 percent of the victims were enjoying outdoor leisure activities before being struck
  • 62 percent of the fatalities occurred during Friday, Saturday, or Sunday
  • 86 percent of the victims have been male

I'd like to highlight a couple recent incidents. On Sunday, August 5, 41-yr-old Brian Zimmerman was struck and killed in the parking lot of the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Stadiums and other large venues present unique problems when it comes to protecting both the participants and spectators. Remember, event organizers and participants share responsibility for safety. Event organizers should have and execute a specific plan to keep event participants safe from lightning and other weather hazards. That plan should include ways to monitor weather conditions for approaching or developing weather hazards and notification procedures that provide enough time for participants and spectators to get to a safe place before the hazard becomes a significant threat. Participants and spectators are also responsible for monitoring weather conditions and heading to a safe place immediately if a storm threatens, particularly if venue officials notify them of imminent danger.

One of my colleagues in the National Weather Service, Charles Woodrum, has developed guidelines and recommendations for these large venues and has worked with universities and large sports organizations to implement these guidelines. They help to keep everyone safe and educate the participants and spectators about the dangers of lightning.

http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/resources/large_venue.pdf

On August 6, on the beach of a small island off the coast of Florida, a 42-yr-old man and his stepson were struck and killed by lightning. This incident is similar to several other incidents that occurred earlier this year where the victims did not have a safe shelter readily available.  Remember, there is no safe place outside when a thunderstorm is in the area. When planning summertime activities, plan ahead so that you can get to a safe place if a thunderstorm develops.  If you are going to be far from safety, it's a good idea to cancel or postpone the activity if thunderstorms are in the forecast. 

Remember, if you do hear thunder, you're likely within striking distance of the storm and need to get to a safe place immediately. Then stay there for 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder. When thunder roars, go indoors!

July 2, 2012

Last week, we were very pleased with the response across the country to our annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week. We saw numerous news stories, web posts, and countless tweets about lightning safety. We know this all helps with our efforts to keep people safe.

July is typically has the most lightning and also a month when people spend a lot of time outdoors. That's potentially a deadly combination. I'm often asked the question of what a person should do for safety if they are caught outside in a thunderstorm and can't get to a safe place. My answer is quite simple–if you can't get to a safe place, then you can't be safe. There simply is no safe place outside when a thunderstorm is in the area.

Some of you may have heard that crouching, finding low areas, or sheltering under areas of smaller trees will help keep you safe–wrong. We don't recommend these actions because they don't significantly lower your risk of being killed or injured from a nearby lightning strike. Quite simply, if you want to lower your risk significantly, you need to get inside a substantial building (one with wiring and plumbing throughout) or a hard-topped metal vehicle. I should point out that there are locations which actually increase the risk of being struck. Those include being under or near tall or isolated trees, being on mountain ridges, or being in contact with metal fences, etc. While we recommend that you avoid these increased risks, just avoiding them does not provide a significant level of safety.

We want you to be safe. Plan ahead, listen to the forecast, monitor weather conditions, and be ready to react if the sky starts to look threatening or you hear thunder. If you see signs of a developing or approaching storm, get to a safe place immediately–don't wait for the rain or a nearby lightning strike. You simply don't want to be caught outside in a thunderstorm as there is nothing that you could to do to prevent a fatal lightning strike.

June 19, 2012: Lightning Safety Awareness Week 2012

The week of June 24th through 30th is the 12th Annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week in the United States. The National Weather Service holds this annual awareness event to highlight the dangers of one of nature's most underrated killers--lightning. During the past 12 years, we've seen the 30-year average for lightning fatalities drop from 73 deaths per year to 53. In fact, during last year, only 26 people were killed by lightning in the U.S. We'd like this trend to continue and we're continuing to work with our partners in emergency management and the media so that the number of fatalities continues to decrease.

lightning fatalities: Leisure, 62%; Daily Routine, 18%; Work, 14%; unknown, 6%As we look back at the fatalities over the years, there are clear patterns in the statistics. Most of the deaths were people outdoors enjoying leisure activities, and most of the victims were male. While summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, it is also the time when the lightning threat reaches a peak. It's important when planning summertime activities, to check the latest forecast before heading outside and to be prepared to get to a safe place quickly if a thunderstorm develops. Remember that the sound of thunder is a warning sign that the storm is close enough to strike you. Once inside, stay there for 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder.

lightning deaths by gender: 81% male, 19% femaleAs we approach Lightning Safety Awareness Week, we've seen four fatalities this year. All four were male and all four were outside enjoying leisure activities. When you're outside this summer just remember the most important lightning safety rule, "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors."

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA

May 1, 2012

With summer approaching, we're starting to see an increase in lightning incidents across the country. Through April, there have been 3 lightning fatalities nationwide, which matches the long term average for the first four months of the year, but is more than we've seen at this time of year since 2006. The three deaths so far this year have been people involved in leisure activities (one young boy outside playing; and a father and son that had been fishing). A look at lightning fatalities over the past 6 years (see pie charts below) shows that most lightning victims were outdoors enjoying leisure activities before being struck, and most victims were male. While summer is a good time to enjoy the outdoors, it's important to remember to plan ahead so that you can get to a safe place should thunderstorms threaten. If you hear thunder (even a distant rumble), you're likely within striking distance of the storm. Substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing or hard-topped metal vehicles offer the best protection.

lightning statistics (see text)lightning statistics (see text)lightning statistics (see text)

Don't be fooled by the many myths and misunderstandings concerning lightning. Rubber-soled shoes offer no protection. Rain shelters and tents offer no protection. And although metal does not attract lightning, it can conduct the current from a lightning discharge. So, it's important to stay away from anything the plugs into the wall, any plumbing, windows and doors, and corded phones while inside.

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA 

January 5, 2012

The National Weather Service's preliminary count of last year's weather-related fatalities indicates that 2011 will be a record low year for lightning fatalities. The National Weather Service has confirmed 26 fatalities across the United States and Territories in 2011. The previous lowest number of lightning fatalities occurred in 2008 when 28 people died. Fortunately, the downward trend in lightning fatalities that we've seen for more than 40 years is continuing.

In large part, the reduction in lightning fatalities is due to the efforts of many people and organizations who help educate the public on the dangers of lightning and make the public more aware of our lightning safety recommendations. Undoubtedly, the benefits of all these efforts are being realized.

I'd like to highlight one person who has been an integral part of the National Weather Service's lightning safety efforts over the past several years, Ellen Bryan. Ellen's sister Christina was struck by lightning more than 10 years ago and suffers serious and permanent brain damage from the incident. Ellen and her sister teamed with us in 2009 to make a Public Service Announcement to promote lightning safety, and Ellen has continued her efforts since then. Ellen was crowned Miss Ohio in June 2011 and will compete in the Miss America Pageant on January 14. We are proud of Ellen and wish her well!

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service

Sep. 8, 2011

For many of you who watched college football on television over the Labor Day weekend, you saw delays and stadium evacuations due to lightning. At least three major college games were delayed or called off early due to a lightning threat. Many high school or other league sports activities across the country likely suffered the same consequence. These actions show an increasing awareness of the dangers of lightning and the recognition that the safety of the participants and fans is of the utmost importance.

The actions of the officials in charge are certainly very encouraging in our efforts to reduce the number of lightning deaths and injuries nationwide. These actions protect those at the games; they also highlight the threat of death or injury to those viewing the games via television. Actions speak louder than words—and the actions of those in charge let everyone know that when lightning is in the area, it is not safe to be outside and that they need to get to a safe place immediately.

Although the number of lightning fatalities varies from year to year, there has been a steady decline in lightning fatalities across the United States. To date, we are aware of 22 lightning fatalities in the U.S. this year. We attribute this decline to an increased awareness of the dangers of lightning and to the informed decisions being made by the public and by those in charge of outdoor activities. The actions of those in charge of the games over the Labor Day weekend are a good example of why lightning fatalities are declining.

July 13, 2011

This year continues to be a very good year in terms of lightning fatalities across the United States. As of July 12, there have been only 8 lightning fatalities in the U.S. for the year, and only 2 for the month of July. While these numbers are below average, there is still much of July and the year remaining.

The news has not been as good from many third-world countries, where lightning has claimed numerous lives--often in multiple-fatality incidents. One such incident occurred in late June at a school in Uganda where lightning killed at least 18 students and 1 teacher and injured 50 others in a single flash. Unfortunately, safe shelters (substantial buildings or hard-topped metal vehicles) are not available in many rural areas of third-world countries. While there may be little that can be done to prevent these incidents, they highlight the threat of multiple casualties at large gatherings of people, and the importance of getting to safe shelter.

Here in the United States, although safe shelters are usually available, we are not immune from multiple-fatality lightning events. People at summertime gatherings sometimes take shelter from thunderstorms under large tents, pavilions, or other structures designed to shield people from sun and rain, but do nothing to protect the occupants from lightning. Such actions make the entire group vulnerable to a nearby lightning strike.

 As we continue to enjoy the outdoors this summer, remember that if the sky looks threatening or you hear thunder, you need to get to a safe place immediately. When it comes to thunderstorms, there is no safety in numbers—just the potential for multiple-fatality lightning incidents.

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National weather Service, NOAA

June 24, 2011

As the National Weather Service's 2011 Lightning Safety Awareness Week comes to an end, I'd like to thank everyone that helped with this effort. I've seen many articles and stories in the broadcast and print media highlighting the dangers of lightning. Although the Awareness Week is ending, the National Weather Service's safety efforts continue throughout the year, not just for lightning, but all weather hazards. Unfortunately, in the next few months, much of the media's attention on lightning safety will be the result of lightning incidents that injure or kill people.

We are approaching the most dangerous time of the year for lightning--the month of July. During July--lightning activity across the United States reaches a peak, and so do summertime activities. It's that combination of outdoor activities and lightning that causes July to be the most deadly month for lightning. If we look at lightning fatalities for the past 30 years, July averages 18 fatalities. That's more than one fatality every other day. While fatality rates have decreased in recent years, each of the last five years has seen 10 or more fatalities in the month. With summer vacations approaching, the 4th of July weekend not far away, and a multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities available, it's important to keep lightning safety in the forefront of your mind. There is no safe place outside when a thunderstorm is in the area. Please help us spread the word and alert people to the potentially life-saving information on this web site.

Finally, I want to highlight the efforts and accomplishments of one of our partners in the lightning safety campaign. Ellen Bryan was crowned Miss Ohio Saturday evening, June 18th, and will be competing in the Miss America Pageant in January. Ellen's platform is lightning safety, and she has worked with the National Weather Service and NOAA for the past three years promoting lightning safety awareness across the country. Ellen's platform is very personal, as her sister, Christina, was struck by lightning in 2000 and suffers permanent injuries. I'd encourage you to take a look at Ellen's lightning safety web site (listed below), as it documents the challenges that Christina and her family have had to endure since this incident. I also want to wish Ellen well in both her continuing lightning safety efforts and in her attempt to become Miss America!

June 17, 2011

The week of June 19-25 is the National Weather Service's 11th annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week. During the week, National Weather Service offices and our partners will be highlighting the dangers of this underrated killer. If you haven't done so already, it's a good time for you and your family to become more familiar with the dangers of lightning and what you can do to avoid the lightning threat.

Since we began this campaign in 2001, we have seen a great improvement in the way people respond to the lightning threat. When we look at the numbers, the campaign has led to a significant reduction of lightning fatalities across the United States. In the ten years prior to the first Lightning Safety Awareness Week (1991-2000), lightning killed about 550 people in the U.S. In comparison, in the 10 years since we began the campaign, about 400 people have been killed. Simple subtraction suggests that about 150 lives have been saved. All of us in the National Weather Service are certainly very pleased with the reduction in fatalities and want to thank everyone who has helped with our educational efforts. More importantly, we want to give credit to the many people who have made critical (and often unpopular) decisions to stop games, events, and outdoor activities at the first sign of a thunderstorm. It is those decisions which ultimately saved lives.

One such decision was made on Saturday, June 11, at the New Jersey Interscholastic State High School Track Championship. Spotters were monitoring all directions in the sky for the possibility of lightning. When lightning was spotted, all events were halted immediately. The 3200 meter (about 2 mile) race was stopped with just one lap remaining and with the lead runner possibly on his way to setting a new state record. While I can certainly understand the disappointment on the part of the athletes, their parents, and fans; most importantly, the officials made the right call. Safety should always be the highest priority. It is that type of decision that has truly led to the reduction in lightning fatalities nationwide in the past 10 years.

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA

June 6, 2011

We learned Friday of the first lightning fatality for 2011. Jeff Taylor, a police officer from Riverside, Kansas, passed away Friday after being struck by lightning on May 23 while assisting with tornado search and rescue efforts in Joplin, MO. Unfortunately, Jeff’s willingness to volunteer his services to help save the lives of others, cost him his own life. Like many of our public servants, Jeff put his own life at risk to help protect and aid the public in an emergency situation. In his last life-saving effort, Jeff donated his organs to others so that they might live. Jeff was married and had two young children. He will be missed by his family, friends and the community that he served.

As we start the summer season, the unfortunate incident that claimed Jeff’s life serves as a reminder to all of us of the dangers of lightning. No place outside is safe when a thunderstorm is in the area. Jeff dedicated his life to protecting the public. I’m sure he’d want everyone to know to get to a safe place when thunderstorms threaten. As with this first fatal incident for 2011, lightning not only affects the lives of the victims, but also the lives of family and friends of the victim. Remember, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA

May 25, 2010

With all the terrible weather news lately, there is some good news to report. As of May 24, there have been no reported lightning fatalities this year in the United States (although a police officer is currently in critical condition after being struck by lightning while helping with tornado relief efforts in Joplin, Mo.). While most lightning fatalities occur in June, July, and August, this year is off to a good start. In fact, thanks to education efforts of the National Weather Service, the media, and our many partners, lightning fatalities continue to decrease across the U.S. This year marks a milestone in our lightning safety efforts. After we compiled the 2010 storm fatality data, lightning had slipped to the third greatest storm-related killer in the U.S.

lightning deaths going down

With the Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start to summer, only days away, it is a good time to remind ourselves that our behavior determines our risk of being struck and potentially killed or injured by lightning. Based on incidents over the past several years, the vast majority of casualties are people involved in outdoor recreational activities. Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy the weather and the many opportunities that summer affords. But it is important to plan ahead so that you can get to a safe place if a thunderstorm develops. While outside, keep an eye on the sky and an ear to the air to look and listen for signs of a developing storm. Remember, if you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm and need to get to a safe place immediately. Just remember, "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!" 

John Jensenius
Lightning Safety Specialist
National Weather Service, NOAA

 


NOAA, National Weather Service
Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services
1325 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Questions, Comments?

Disclaimer
Credits
Glossary
Privacy Policy
About Us
Career Opportunities
`