Lightning Safety for Floridians
Florida is popular for its outdoor attractions with numerous beaches, pools, roller coasters, and great golfing opportunities. It can be tempting to stay out all day. However, with outdoor activities comes thunderstorms and, with it, lightning. Let’s review some common myths and truths about lightning safety.
Myth: Once inside, lightning can’t harm me anymore.
Truth: While indoors, the possibility of lightning harming a person is low, but it is never zero.
The chances of a direct lightning strike do go down significantly when indoors. But other forms of lightning strikes are still possible. For example, if lightning strikes the house or the house’s power source, electricity can travel down the wires and reach a person holding a plugged-in device. This type of strike is called conduction.
During a storm, avoid taking a shower or bath. Water, like metal, is a conductor of electricity. This does not mean metal and water attract lightning but rather provides an easy pathway for electricity to follow. So, if lightning strikes the ground near your house, the powerline, or somewhere else outside that has a connection to the home’s interior, the electricity can travel to wherever the water or metal leads. This can be to the kitchen sink, the shower, to a charging phone, or to a corded vacuum.
Myth: I’m taking shelter under a tree; the lightning will strike the tree, not me.
Truth: Lightning will often strike the tallest objects in the area like trees, telephone poles, etc.
Do not take shelter under a tree. When lightning strikes a tree, it can travel down the trunk into its root system and spread into the surrounding area. If the lightning travels into the root system, then electrocution by the ground current is possible. This is when lightning travels through the ground, and anything or anyone touching the ground can be electrocuted.
Another form of electrocution is by-side flash/splash. This is when lightning strikes the tall object, in this case, the tree, and jumps to another area. Much like throwing a bucket of water onto a friend and water droplets splash onto a bystander.
Myth: It is just a little thunder; I can stay outside.
Truth: No, if you can hear thunder then you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
Thunder is the byproduct of lightning. Lightning can burn at 50,000 degrees (the sun burns at 10,000) which causes a rift in the surrounding air pressure. Resulting in a shock wave that will form that will create the sound of thunder. So, if you can hear thunder, then you’re within striking distance.
As the saying goes, “when thunder roars, go indoors.”
If you’re stuck outdoors during a thunderstorm, stay safe with these tips:
- If there is no shelter, get as small as you can away from tall trees. Tall stand-alone trees have a higher risk of being struck by lightning.
- Remove yourself from high elevations, cliffs, and other rock formations.
- If in a boat or swimming, get out of the water. Water easily conducts electricity.
- Never lay flat on the ground; this increases the surface area for electrocution by conduction. Instead, crouch to the ground, and with only your feet touching the ground. Try to form a ball with your body, bringing your hands up to cover your ears. This is a short-term position that is challenging to maintain for long periods of time. Consider this a last resort option if stuck in the wilderness
- Do not touch concrete structures that have metal wires, rods, or grates built within them. The metal within the concrete can conduct electricity and harm the person laying or leaning against the structure.
Remember, planning is the key to lightning safety.
- Always consult a weather app or station when planning an outdoor event (fishing, hiking, biking, or birthday party).
- Be aware of sudden weather changes. Such as large cumulonimbus clouds accompanied by sudden changes in wind direction.
- Have reliable sources of communication such as a charged cellphone, satellite phone, radio, etc., if something goes wrong.
- In addition, if you are going out into the wilderness or ocean, let someone know the general area or coordinates you plan to visit with the expected time you are to be back.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 21). When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/lightning-safety/index.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 12). Natural Disasters and Severe Weather. Lightning: Lightning Safety Tips. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/safetytips.html
- National Weather Service. (n.d.). Lightning Safety Tips and Resources. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning
- National Weather Service. (n.d.). Lightning Science: Five Ways Lightning Strikes People. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-struck
- National Weather Service. (n.d.) How Hot is Lightning? National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-temperature#:~:text=Air%20is%20a%20very%20poor,the%20surface%20of%20the%20sun
- National Weather Service. (n.d.). Understanding Lightning Return Stroke. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-science-return-stroke
- National Weather Service. (n.d.). Understanding Lightning Science. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-science-overview
- Science Reference Section, Library of Congress. (2021, June 17). What Causes the Sound of Thunder? https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/meteorology-climatology/item/what-causes-the-sound-of-thunder/
- The National Severe Storms Laboratory. (n.d.) Severe Weather 101. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/lightning/faq/
Originally Published on August 5, 2021
This blog post was written by Natural Resources Extension Program Intern, Ms. Kaitlyn Harwell, under the supervision of Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agent, Mrs. Shannon Carnevale.
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