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What Every Runner Should Know About Lightning

By Lisa Jhung, Runner’s World
7/17/2013 8:47:41 AM

If you've ever found yourself running in a lightning storm, you may have wondered what you should do to stay safe. Crouch low in an open field? Duck under a shelter? Or, keep running?

Know that there's an average of 54 reported deaths due to lightning each year, and hundreds of people are permanently injured after becoming struck. These injured folks suffer long-term symptoms like memory loss, attention deficits, stiff joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

Getting struck directly by lightning-or other forms, like the ground current created by a strike-is something to take very seriously. The old recommendation of crouching down into a "lightning squat"-reducing oneself to the size of a child-has changed after not proving to provide much safety.

We asked John Jensenius, Lightning Safety Specialist for the National Outdoor Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about how a runner can stay safe in a storm, and here's what he has to say.

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Photo by: Flickr user antony_mayfield

1. "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors." NOAA strongly recommends avoidance, because there isn't much you can do when you're already out in a storm. So, when you're planning a run, listen to the forecast, look online at the radar and take advantage of times of the day when lightning is less likely.

Watch the sky for first signs of a developing thunderstorm. The sound of thunder is a sign the storm is close enough to strike you. Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last sign of lightning or thunder.

2. Get to a safe place. If you are caught in a thunder and lightning storm, the best thing to do is to get to a safe place-inside a car, or substantial building-as soon as you can. In most cases, that means keep running to get out of the storm.

Seek out a hard-topped metal vehicle, or a substantial building. If lighting strikes a car, the electricity passes through the outer shell of the car and doesn't significantly harm the people inside. Being safe in a car has nothing to do with the fact that it has rubber tires.

If you're far from a car or building on a long run, squatting should only be used in desperation because it's fairly insignificant in reducing the risk.

3. Do not... If you're caught running in a storm, you increase your risk of danger by taking shelter under a tall or isolated tree. Being the tallest object in the area more makes you a threat to be a direct strike. And since a ground current kills or injures more people than a direct strike, it's best just to stay indoors during a sign of a thunderstorm.

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