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Thunderstorms and Lightning

All thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. In the United States, an average of 300 people are injured and 80 people are killed each year by lightning. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

Other associated dangers of thunderstorms include tornadoes, strong winds, hail, and flash flooding. Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities—more than 140 annually—than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard.

Dry thunderstorms that do not produce rain that reaches the ground are most prevalent in the western United States. Falling raindrops evaporate, but lightning can still reach the ground and can start wildfires.

Lightning casualty rate by state

The following are facts about thunderstorms:

The following are facts about lightning:

Know the Terms
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a thunderstorm hazard:

Severe Thunderstorm: WatchTells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.

Take Protective Measures

Before Thunderstorms and Lightning
To prepare for a thunderstorm, you should do the following:

The following are guidelines for what you should do if a thunderstorm is likely in your area:

Avoid the following:

During a Thunderstorm

If you are: Then:
In a forest Seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
In an open area Go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.
On open water Get to land and find shelter immediately.
Anywhere you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike) Squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact it the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.

After a Thunderstorm
Call 9-1-1 for medical assistance as soon as possible.

The following are things you should check when you attempt to give aid to a victim of lightning:

Knowledge Check
Decide whether the following statements are true or false. When you have finished, verify your answers using the answer key.

True of False Statements

  1. Every thunderstorm produces lightning.
  2. Never touch a person struck by lightning.
  3. Dry, cold conditions favor development of a thunderstorm.
  4. If you can count to 25 after seeing lightning and before hearing thunder, it is safe to stay outdoors.
  5. It is safe to use a cordless telephone during a thunderstorm.
  6. Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide protection from lightning.

Image of lightning

For More Information

If you require more information about any of these topics, the following are resources that may be helpful.

National Weather Service

Facts about Lightning. 200252. Two-page factsheet for boaters.

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Last Modified: Friday, 30-May-2008 10:39:19 EDT