7 lightning safety tips if you’re caught outside during a thunderstorm

By Courtney Barrow, AccuWeather staff writer

When lightning strikes, finding the right shelter may not always be easy. Here are the best tips on what to do if stuck outdoors during a thunderstorm.

Each year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) promotes its Lightning Safety Awareness Week, hoping to spread the message on how to stay safe in the event of a thunderstorm.

Twenty-eight people are killed by lightning in the United States each year, according to NOAA's 10-year average of annual lightning fatalities.

There are a number of myths about the best places to find shelter when lightning strikes. It's important to know the facts to keep you and your family safe.

1) Get inside as quickly as possible

The best place to be is indoors. NOAA advises that the best course of action is to get to a safe building or vehicle.

"Staying out in the open is a big no-no," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

If you can get inside quickly, do so.

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors - NOAA image

To stay safe in a thunderstorm, remember and follow the phrase "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!" (Photo/NOAA)

2) Stay low

It's best to get as low to the ground as possible; you do not want to be the tallest thing around in a thunderstorm.

"If there is no shelter available, it's best to find a low spot," said Duffey. "You'll want to find somewhere like a ditch or a depression."

lightning getty

(bgfoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

"If you are hiking a mountain and a storm approaches for example, hiking downhill while you can is helpful," he said.

NOAA recommends that when heading out for an activity when thunderstorms will be the area, avoid places like fields or the tops of hills. The administration also says to avoid tall, isolated trees.

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3) Cars are better than nothing

While being in an enclosed car is not as safe as being inside a building, it is a safer option than staying outside.

Common myths regarding cars and lightning is that the rubber from the tires or the gasket around the windshield keep you safe, but that's not necessarily true.

"The real reason cars are a safe option is the metal shell of your car disperses the lightning around you and to the ground," said Duffey. "While you aren’t completely safe, you are safer in your car compared to outside."

4) Avoid bodies of water

While some may think that water will attract lightning, that's not true, either. However, water is an excellent conductor of electricity, meaning that it can travel far.

If out at the beach, pool or lake, and you hear thunder begin to roll in, seek shelter immediately. Being outside, especially near water, is not a good option.

5) Tents and pavilions are not good options

When out at a park or camp ground, people tend to gather under a tent or pavilion to wait out the storm. However, standing under any kind of open shelter like that is still a risky choice.

"Many tents/pavilions have metallic or at least frames made of other conductive materials," said Duffey, explaining how they're about as risky as standing under a lone, tall tree.

Heading indoors or to the car are still the best places to be in a thunderstorm.

6) Always check the forecast before heading outside

If you know you're going to be outside for an extended period of time, far from any nearby buildings or your car, check your local forecast before you leave the house for the day.

NOAA reminds you to keep in mind that the forecast for where you live may not be the same as the place you're going, so be sure to be prepared in the event of a thunderstorm.

7) Don't dawdle

Another common misconception is that thunderstorms have to be nearby for lightning to be a danger. In reality, as soon as you hear thunder, you should move to shelter immediately.

"Lightning can strike very far from a thunderstorm, so even if it isn’t raining, once you can hear thunder you may be in danger," said Duffey.

Lightning myths infographic

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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