Prevent Lightning Strike Injuries

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD

While lightning strike fatalities are decreasing thanks to public education programs, many people are still injured or killed by lightning each year. Consider the following facts:

  • Lightning kills more people annually in the U.S. than hurricanes or tornadoes.
  • Lightning strikes kill an average of 67 people in the United States each year.
  • Although 90% of those struck by lightning survive, up to 700 survivors of lightning strikes annually will be left with long-term health effects that include memory loss, weakness, depression, attention deficits, sleep disturbances, feelings of numbness or dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, muscle spasms, and an inability to sit still for long periods.
  • July is the peak month for lightning strikes in the U.S.

Whenever you hear thunder or see a storm approaching, you can prevent lightning strike injuries by:

  • Staying indoors in a safe building. Buildings are considered safe if they are fully enclosed with a roof, walls, floor, and plumbing and wiring. Plumbing and wiring are critical because the electrical current from a lightning strike will travel through the wiring into the ground. Picnic shelters and partially open buildings such as carports, gazebos, and covered patios without internal wiring are not safe for this reason. Tents also offer no protection from lightning strikes.
  • Stay inside hard-topped cars and other vehicles (not convertibles!) that also provide safe shelters from lightning.
  • Always stay away from metal objects and wet ropes.
  • Never take shelter under tall trees or under a partially-enclosed shelter. If you are outdoors and cannot reach a car or a safe building, find a ditch or low-lying area and sit in a crouched position to wait out the storm.
  • In all cases, wait 30 minutes after you hear thunder or see lightning to resume outdoor activities or leave a safe building or vehicle.

For additional information, please visit the First Aid Center.

Reference: National Weather Service, (http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/)
Last Editorial Review: 7/8/2005