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NOAA Marks Lightning Safety Awareness Week: June 22-28

Stay Safe and Avoid the Risks of Lightning

June 23, 2008

Lightning strike.

High resolution (credit: NOAA)

On June 6, 2008, a 16-year-old girl was closing her kitchen window in Michigan when lightning struck the house, sending a potentially deadly electric charge through the teenager’s body. Fortunately, she lived to tell the story, with only scars on her fingertips where the electricity passed through. Eight others in the United States this year were not as lucky, and the summer season has just begun.

On average, 62 people die every year from lightning strikes, with hundreds of additional injuries reported. Although Florida leads the nation in the average number of lightning strikes per square mile, lightning strikes occur in all states. Most people struck by lightning are outside, but this story shows that lightning can strike you inside your home if you’re not careful. In fact, the United States sees an estimated 25 million lightning flashes per year. And each flash is a potential killer.

Leon and Lightning poster.

High resolution (credit: NOAA)

This week marks national Lightning Safety Awareness Week, and NOAA wants you to know how to keep yourself safe during thunderstorms. If you hear thunder, you are within striking distance of the storm. NOAA’s safety motto, “when thunder roars, go indoors,” should be heeded at all times. To help keep you and your family safe, NOAA’s Lightning Safety Web site offers useful safety tips and education resources such as posters, coloring pages, and games.

“One of the most common mistakes people and animals make is they huddle under trees and other structures to stay dry during thunderstorms. This can be a deadly mistake,” said NOAA lightning safety expert John Jensenius. “Lightning can strike from a storm that is as far away as 10 miles, so if you hear thunder, you need to get inside a building or car immediately.”

Lightning Safety Tips

The only way to be safe during lightning is to be inside a substantial building or car. A building is safe if it is fully enclosed with a roof, walls, and floor, and contains wiring and plumbing throughout. Picnic shelters, dugouts, sheds and other partially open or small structures are not safe. Substantial buildings are safe because the electrical current from the lightning strike will typically travel through the wiring and/or plumbing into the ground.

While Indoors

If you cannot get into a house, substantial building, or car, the following tips could help you lower your risk of getting struck by lightning. However, there is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm. NOAA encourages people to get a NOAA Weather Radio (available at local electronics stores) so you can monitor the weather. Do not plan outdoor activities that are far away from a building or car on days when thunderstorms are forecast.

While Outdoors

For more information about lightning, visit NOAA’s Lightning Safety Web site.