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Lightning Safety Tips

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

To be safe during a lightning storm if outside, do you lie flat on the ground or get into a ball or fetal position?


Betting on the answer

Dear Betting on the answer,

Neither position (lying down crouched or flat) is considered a safe position. Section targeting According to the National Weather Service: "If lightning is in the immediate area, and there is no safe location nearby, get into the lightning desperation position. Crouch down, but do NOT lie down. Bend your knees down while keeping your feet together." (

Only the balls of your feet should be touching the ground, and keep your arms near your body with your hands over your ears.

Do NOT seek shelter under a tree or in partially open structures such as picnic shelters or dugouts as these are NOT safe.

If you have a car nearby, it's best to get into the car, roll up the windows, and do not touch any metal surfaces.

Remember, light travels faster than sound, at about a rate of 1 mile every 5 seconds. Lightning is considered dangerously close if you see lightning in the distance and it takes 30 seconds or less for you to hear the thunder. At 30 seconds, lightning is 6 miles away (30 seconds divided by 5).

Even if you are indoors, the National Weather Service recommends avoiding contact with corded phones, avoid contact with plumbing, stay away from windows and doors, stay away from electrical equipment including TVs and computers, and do not touch concrete floors or walls.

In the event of lightning, the following safety tips are recommended by the National Weather Service (


No place is absolutely safe from lightning; however, some places are much safer than others. The safest location during lightning activity is an enclosed building. The second safest location is an enclosed metal vehicle, car, truck, van, etc., but NOT a convertible, bike or other topless or soft-top vehicle.

Safe Buildings

A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, such as a home, school, office building or a shopping center.

Unsafe Buildings

Car ports, covered but open garages, covered patio, picnic shelters, beach shacks/pavilions, golf shelters, camping tents, large outdoor tents, baseball dugouts and other partially open structures.

Safe Vehicle

A safe vehicle is a hard-topped car, SUV, minivan, bus, tractor, etc. (soft-topped convertibles are not safe). If you seek shelter in your vehicle, make sure all doors are closed and windows rolled up. Do not touch any metal surfaces.

If you're driving when a thunderstorm starts, pull off the roadway. A lightning flash hitting the vehicle could startle you and cause temporary blindness, especially at night.

Do not use electronic devices such as HAM radios or cell phones during a thunderstorm. Lightning striking the vehicle, especially the antennae, could cause serious injury if you are talking on the radio or holding the microphone at the time of the flash.

When a safe location is nearby, follow the "30/30 Rule."

1) Seek safe shelter when you first hear thunder, see dark threatening clouds developing overhead or lightning. Count the seconds between the time you see lightning and hear the thunder. You should already be in a safe location if that time is less than 30 seconds.

2) Stay inside until 30 minutes after you last hear thunder.

If thunderstorms develop, use the "Flash to Bang" method. By counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder you can estimate the distance between you and the lightning strike. The flash-to-bang method is based on the fact that light travels faster than sound, which travels at a speed of approximately 1 mile every 5 seconds. It is recommended that you seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less (6 miles). If you observe lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles.

Example: If you see lightning and it takes 10 seconds before you hear the thunder, then the lightning is 2 miles away from you (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles).

If Thunder is heard The Lightning is...

5 seconds after a Flash, 1 mile away

10 seconds after a Flash, 2 miles away

15 seconds after a Flash, 3 miles away

20 seconds after a Flash, 4 miles away

25 seconds after a Flash, 5 miles away

30 seconds after a Flash, 6 miles away

35 seconds after a Flash, 7 miles away

40 seconds after a Flash, 8 miles away

Summary of Lightning Safety Tips for Inside the Home

1. Avoid contact with corded phones

2. Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.

3. Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry.

4. Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

5. Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.

Lightning Safety Awareness Week is in June. For more information about lightning see the National Weather Service at