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What You Can Do When Lightning Strikes

You always hear stories about lightning strikes and how the chances of being hit by one are extremely rare. Although that is true – it is always better to protect yourself when the risk is high. Here are some tips to help you stay safe!

Lightning strikes and people

We all know lightning is dangerous, but what exactly happens to a body when it is struck?

According to Frank LoVecchio, DO, a toxicologist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, when lightning strikes it is at a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun – but it only has contact with you for less than a fraction of a second.

“Most commonly, a localized burn occurs,” Dr. LoVecchio said. “The current or electrical activity can cause cardiac arrest or an irregular heartbeat, delivering energy to the heart similar to the way a defibrillator does.”

A lightning strike may also burst an ear drum, which can cause life-long hearing problems, and even cataracts in the eyes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are roughly 1 in 500,000, and about 10 percent of people struck by lightning die. The majority of lightning fatalities are caused by a heart attack.


Staying safe

As with most environmental illnesses or injuries, prevention is key. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends people follow the 30/30 rule: If, after seeing lightning, you can’t count to 30 before you hear thunder, get inside a building immediately. Then after such a storm, don’t go outside until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder you heard.

The CDC offers these additional tips:

  • Stay indoors and avoid:
    • Water contact
    • Use of electronic equipment
    • Corded phones
    • Windows
    • Doors
    • Porches
    • Concrete – lightning can travel through concrete
  • If you are unable to go indoors:
    • Crouch close to the ground – a ball position with your head tucked, touching as little of the ground as possible
    • Separate from other people – this will reduce the number of injuries if lightning did strike
  • Some vehicles can be a safe shelter
    • A hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled up is safe
    • Convertibles, motorcycles and golf carts are NOT safe
  • Avoid other open structures:
    • Gazebos
    • Sports arenas
    • Parks
    • Pools
    • Beaches

If you see someone struck by lightning, call 911 for help immediately.

To learn more about the Banner Poision & Drug Information Center, visit:

This post has been updated. It was originally published on September 11, 2015.

Safety Wellness

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