Lightning Safety

Lightning strikes homes.
Photo: © Kyle Fougere, Environment Canada

Each year lightning kills approximately 10 Canadians and injures approximately 100 to 150 others. So, how do you keep yourself and your family safe when lightning strikes? Read the tips and information below and stay safe!

The first and most important thing to remember is that if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance of lightning. Take shelter immediately, preferably in a house or all-metal automobile (not convertible top). If caught outside far from a safe shelter, stay away from tall objects, such as trees, poles, wires and fences. Take shelter in a low lying area.

Once indoors, stay away from electrical appliances and equipment, doors, windows, fireplaces, and anything else that will conduct electricity, such as sinks, tubs and showers. Avoid using a telephone that is connected to a landline or touching devices that are plugged in for charging.

If you are in your car during lightning, do not park under tall objects that could topple, and do not get out if there are downed power lines nearby. If you are caught outside, don’t stand near tall objects or anything made of metal, and avoid open water.

If caught on the water in a small boat with no cabin during thunder and lightning, quickly get to shore. Boats with cabins offer a safer environment, but it’s still not ideal.

Remember, there is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm. Once in a safe location, remain there for 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard before resuming your outdoor activities.

People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge and can be safely handled, but victims may be suffering from burns or shock and should receive medical attention immediately. If you come across someone who has been struck, call for medical assistance immediately and, if breathing has stopped, administer mouth-to-mouth or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Additional precautions to take during a lightning storm

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors. Be Weather Wise

© Thinkstock.ca, 2014

If caught outdoors:

  • Avoid putting yourself above the surrounding landscape. Seek shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys, ditches and depressions but be aware of flooding.
  • Stay away from water. Don't go boating or swimming if a storm threatens, and get to land as quickly as possible if you are already on the water. Lightning can strike the water and travel a substantial distance from its point of contact.
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as tractors, golf carts, golf clubs, metal fences, motorcycles, lawnmowers and bicycles.
  • Avoid being the highest point in an open area. Swinging a golf club, or holding an umbrella or fishing rod can make you the tallest object and a target for lightning.
  • You are safe inside a car during lightning, but be aware of downed power lines which may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.
  • In a forest, seek shelter in a low-lying area under a thick growth of small trees or bushes.
  • Keep alert for flash floods, sometimes caused by heavy rainfall, if seeking shelter in a ditch or low-lying area.

Indoor Precautions:

  • Before the storm hits, disconnect electrical appliances including computers, radios and television sets. Do not touch them during the storm.
  • Don't go outside unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from windows.
  • Use battery operated or cordless devices only. The electrical current from the lightning strike will travel through wires and cords using the path of least resistance. Electrical current will follow metal pipes and wires until it reaches the ground (or you, if you are connected through them).
  • Working on a plugged in computer, or holding a phone or other devices when they're charging are unsafe practices that should be avoided during lightning storms. Cordless telephones are safe; however you could hear a very loud noise on the phone. This would be consistent with your house or somewhere nearby being struck by lightning.
  • Delay taking a shower, doing laundry, or washing the dishes by hand during a thunderstorm because water is an electrical conductor. If lightning strikes your house or nearby, the lightning charge may travel through the pipes and you could be hurt.

Information on this page was a compilation of various sources mentioned below.

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