National Weather Service
National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Overview: Lightning Safety

There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Just remember, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many of the lightning deaths and injuries in the U.S.

animation showing lightning approaching, see text for explanation

The best way for you to protect yourself from lightning is to avoid the threat. You simply don’t want to be caught outside in a storm. Have a lightning safety plan, and cancel or postpone activities early if thunderstorms are expected. Monitor weather conditions and get to a safe place before the weather becomes threatening. Substantial buildings and hard-topped vehicles are safe options. Rain shelters, small sheds, and open vehicles are not safe.

When inside, do not touch anything that is plugged into an electrical outlet, plumbing, and corded phones. Cell phones and cordless phones are safe. Also, keep away from outside doors and windows and do not lie on a garage floor.


Understanding the Threat

The threat that someone will be struck by lightning depends on their behavior when thunderstorms are in the area. The graphs below provide some insight into why and when people are struck by lightning and what can do to lower their risk.

In the first graph, the threat of lightning increases as a thunderstorm approaches, reaches a peak when the storm is overhead, and then gradually diminishes as the storm moves away. At the same time, it’s people’s behavior that determines the risk of a fatal lightning strike. While some people move inside at the first signs of a thunderstorm, many people wait far too long to get to a safe place. Some wait until the thunderstorm is overhead and it starts to rain. Others, due to poor planning, are caught outside and can’t get to a safe place. Although most people get inside, some put themselves at risk by touching items that could become electrified by a nearby lightning strike. Finally, many people go outside too soon after the storm has seemingly passed, often only waiting for the rain to become lighter or end. It is all of these unsafe behaviors that put people at risk when thunderstorm are in the area.

animation showing threat of ligntning casualties, see text for description


Minimizing the Risk

To minimize your personal risk of being struck by lightning, when going outside, plan ahead so that you can get to a safe place quickly if a thunderstorm threatens. If the sky looks threatening or if you hear thunder, get inside a safe place immediately. Once inside, avoid contact with corded phones, electrical equipment, plumbing, and windows and doors. Finally, wait 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder before going back outside. If everyone followed those simple rules, the number of lightning casualties in this country could be greatly reduced.

Graphic showing risk of lightning death at various points in a thunderstorm, see text for description.

Remember, it is your behavior when thunderstorms are in the area that determines your personal risk of being struck by lightning. When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!


Lightning Victims

If someone is struck by lightning, they may need immediate medical attention. Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to touch. Call 911 and monitor the victim. Start CPR or use an Automated External Defibrillator if needed.

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