Safety During Lightning Storms

In April of 2010, I was driving home from work, heading South on Route 9 in Middletown, CT when an unexpected storm quickly blew in. As I exited the highway into Higganum, heavy rain turned to blinding hail and damaging winds, making for a very scary ride home. I safely made my way to my driveway to find a still-steaming tree that had just been struck by lightning.

The powerful lightning had stripped bark off the entire length of the tree, and the bark lay on the driveway, still attached to the tree’s base as if someone had peeled it off. Several branches lay around the yard. When I could safely park inside the garage and asses the damage from inside (I wasn’t sure if we were in danger of another strike), I could see from the window that branches had literally exploded, hitting the side of the house and pelting the garage doors causing a little damage. The lightning entered our house through the cable line, causing damage to the phone lines, and even caused our well to be shaken up a bit, as shown through sediment in the water over the next few days. I was grateful for limited damage and reminded how powerful lightning can be.

Luckily, I had been in the area, driving in the safety of car, but what if you’re caught outdoors in a sudden storm with lightning and there isn’t a safe spot nearby? According to the National Weather Service, you need to remember there is NO safe place outside in a thunderstorm.

“Know the weather patterns of the area. For example, in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day and be down the mountain by noon. Listen to the weather forecast for the outdoor area you plan to visit.”

NWS tips for reducing your risk of being struck by lightning:

- If camping, hiking, etc., far from a safe vehicle or building, avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.

- Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.

- If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.

- Stay away from water, wet items (such as ropes) and metal objects (such as fences and poles). Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.

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