Potential Disasters: How to Avoid being Struck by Lightning

Around 2,000 people each year are killed by lightning throughout the world. Those out in open spaces like golfers, hill walkers, hikers, construction workers, farm workers, fishermen, anglers and campers are amongst the most vulnerable to being struck.

On average, most lightning casualties occur on mountain summits, under lone trees, in open areas or on large bodies of water.

Thousands are struck every year and survive but are left with severe and debilitating brain injuries. There are some things you can do to avoid electrical storms and reduce your chances of being struck.

When Lightning Flashes or you Hear Thunder

  • When lightning or thunder starts, if you are outside, seek refuge in a car and close the windows, or find shelter in a substantial building. If you are caught outside without access to a building or car, stay clear of ponds, lakes and other bodies of water and tall objects like trees. Never shelter under an isolated tree.
  • If on elevated ground, such as hills, mountain peaks or ridges go to lower ground, then find a hollow or depression and crouch down as low as possible, but never lie down on the ground. Lightning can move in and along the ground, and many victims are struck not by bolts through the air but by currents running along the ground.
  • Stay clear of objects that conduct electricity such as wire fences, power lines and windmills.
  • If you’re inside, avoid taking showers or baths and don’t wash dishes. Also avoid using landline telephones, TVs, and other appliances that use mains electricity.

Once the Storm is Over

Stay inside for 30 minutes after you last hear thunder or see lightning. People have been struck by lightning from electrical storms that are as far as 10 miles away.

The rule of thumb is, if you can hear thunder, you’re within striking range of the thunderstorm and you need to seek shelter right away.

Thinking of going hiking in the mountains? Here are some tips to reduce the risks:

Check the Weather Forecast

Always check the weather forecast before starting a hike. If storms are forecast, consider cancelling or changing the route to one on lower ground, or one on less exposed terrain. Be aware that after a long period of high humidity, thunderstorms often occur.

Keep monitoring the weather

Weather forecasts are usually accurate, but they can’t always predict the time and specific location of thunderstorms. If clouds build-up and start to become rolling and menacing and the sky darkens, it’s time to review your plans. On warm humid days the danger will increase throughout the day as heat builds up.

Lightning strikes are more frequent on peaks and ridges because lightning takes the shortest route to the earth. The higher and more open you are, the bigger the danger. Only descend from higher ground if it’s safe to do so. Rushing quickly down a hill or mountain on uneven ground can be particularly dangerous during or after rainfall.

Find a safe place

Seek low open ground rather than taking shelter under trees. These will put you in danger if struck by lightning, as the lightning takes the quickest route to earth. Also remember to crouch on the ground and make sure that there is higher ground above you.

Reduce contact with the ground and any conductive objects. Ideally crouch on insulating material such as sleeping bags or rucksacks.

Mountains and high peaks are unsafe during lightning storms