When lightning strikes


People always hear stories about lightning strikes and how the chance of getting hit by one is rare. While a lightning strike can kill, these tips can keep you can stay safe!

Lightning strikes and people

Everyone knows 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 has contact with you 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, causing long-term hearing problems, or cause 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. A majority of the 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 hearing thunder, get inside a building immediately. Also, don’t go outside until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

The CDC offers these additional tips:

  • Stay indoors
    • While indoors, avoid water contact, use of electronic equipment and corded phones
    • Stay away from windows, doors, porches and concrete
  • If you are unable to go indoors, crouch close to the ground and separate
    • Crouching in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears allows you to be low while touching the ground as little as possible
    • Separating from others in your group will reduce the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground
  • A hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled-up can be a safe shelter
    • Convertibles, motorcycles and golf carts are NOT safe
  • Avoid open vehicles and open structures such as porches, gazebos, sports arenas, parks, pools and beaches
  • Avoid standing on concrete flooring or leaning on concrete walls as lightning can travel through metal wires or bars within the concrete
  • If you see someone struck by lightning, call 911 for help immediately
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