When thunder and lightning are present, it indicates the proximity of a potential threat. According to the National Weather Service, the danger is usually within a 10-mile radius of your location.
Lightning poses a significant risk during a thunderstorm, as it can cause severe injury or even death. This danger extends to everyday activities like showering, bathing, or washing dishes.
Since lightning can travel through plumbing, it is advisable to avoid any contact with water during a thunderstorm. This includes showering, bathing, washing dishes, or even washing hands, as stated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the risk might be somewhat reduced with plastic pipes compared to metal pipes, it is still best to steer clear of plumbing and running water to minimize the chances of being struck by lightning, as emphasized by the CDC.
Being indoors doesn’t eliminate the risks entirely. It is important to avoid porches, balconies, windows, and doors during a thunderstorm. Furthermore, the CDC advises against lying down on concrete floors or leaning against concrete walls.
Using electrical appliances connected to outlets, such as computers or other electronic equipment, should be strictly avoided. Corded phones should not be used either, while cell phones and cordless phones are considered safe as long as they are not connected to a charger.
Lightning generates extreme heat, with the air surrounding a lightning bolt reaching temperatures as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun, according to the National Weather Service. The rapid expansion and contraction of the air create the thunderous sound that follows the flash.
Direct strikes from lightning are often fatal, but injuries can also occur from touching a car or metal object struck by lightning. These injuries can include blunt trauma, skin lesions, burns, and harm to the brain, muscles, and eyes. Lightning can even travel through the ground or bounce off objects, posing further risks.
It is possible to estimate the distance between you and lightning by counting the seconds between the flash and the sound of thunder. However, it is crucial to do this from a safe location to avoid getting struck by lightning, as advised by the weather service.
Most lightning-related deaths and injuries occur outdoors, particularly during the summer months and in the afternoon and evening, according to the CDC. Approximately 180 people are injured by lightning each year, and 10% of those struck do not survive. Individuals who work outside, especially in the Southeastern United States, are at the highest risk. Florida and Texas have the highest number of lightning-related deaths, according to the CDC.
If caught outside during a thunderstorm, it is vital to avoid lying on the ground. Lightning can generate electric currents along the surface of the ground, which can be deadly even at distances exceeding 100 feet. Instead, seek shelter indoors as soon as possible. Avoid being near tall trees, and if no safe shelter is available, assume a crouched position by putting your feet together, squatting low, tucking your head, and covering your ears. However, this should only be a last resort; the primary objective is to find a safe shelter.