Story by Andrea Stone/American Red Cross
When lightning strikes, it can be dangerous, even deadly. That fact hit home in July 2013 when 12 Fort Carson soldiers were injured by a lightning strike while at a training area. The incident happened just days after nine farm workers were struck by lightning in northern Colorado.
“People should seek shelter immediately once they hear thunder, see lightning or observe threatening skies,” said Steve Hodanish, a lightning expert with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
In Colorado, there are more than 490,000 cloud-to-ground lightning flashes every year, ranking the state 26th in the nation. El Paso County and the Colorado Springs metro area have the dubious distinction of ranking first in the state for lightning incidents. Colorado also ranks fifth in the nation for fatalities due to lightning.
But there are things you can do to protect yourself from lightning.
At the first sound of thunder, stop outdoor activities and move to a safe shelter – a substantial building or an enclosed metal-topped vehicle with the windows rolled up. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
In the past, meteorologists recommended the 30/30 rule, advising people to seek shelter if they cannot count to 30 between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. That advice is no longer given.
“People wait too long to seek shelter. Most people who are struck waited too long to seek safe shelter and were injured or killed. We now recommend that you seek shelter immediately when lightning threatens,” Hodanish said.
One part of the 30/30 rule still holds true, however. Stay in a safe shelter until at least 30 minutes after you’ve heard thunder.
If you’re caught outdoors in a thunderstorm, run for the nearest safe shelter. If there is no safe shelter or vehicle around, immediately get off elevated areas, such as hilltops, and stay away from lakes or other bodies of water. Don’t shelter under an isolated tree or rocky cliff or overhang. Don’t lie flat on the ground and avoid any objects that conduct electricity, such as power lines. If you are nowhere near a shelter or a vehicle, then squat down. If you can run for a shelter, that’s the better choice.
“No place outside is safe when lightning is occurring,” he said.
To stay safe indoors, stay off corded phones,
computers and other electrical equipment. Avoid plumbing, and stay away from windows and doors. Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
One of the best methods to stay safe in a thunderstorm is to pay attention to weather forecasts and avoid planning outdoor activities when the risk may be greater. For preparedness information and to get severe weather warnings at your fingertips, download the Red Cross tornado app, available for iPhone, Android and tablet. You can download the app from the Red Cross at www.redcross.org/mobileapps.