Posted by: Kelley Dees | May 5, 2011

Lightning Safety 101: Lightning never strikes the same place twice, does it?

Generally, there are three types of lightning: intracloud (within a cloud), cloud-to-cloud (between two clouds), and cloud-to-ground (between a could and the ground). Most of us are concerned about the lightning that reaches the ground.

You can use lightning and thunder to your advantage when judging a thunderstorm’s path. Since lightning travels at nearly the speed of light, it is faster than the speed of sound (thunder in this case). You can use a simple 5 second rule to judge if a thunderstorm is traveling towards or away from you. Right after you see a bolt of lightning, start counting. When you hear the thunder arrive after, stop counting. Thunder travels approximately 1 mile in 5 seconds. So, if there is a 5 second difference between the lightning and thunder, you can guess the storm is about 1 mile away from you. If the time between successive lightning/thunder combinations decreases, then the storm is traveling towards you.

If you do see lightning or hear thunder, whether the storm is traveling towards or away from you, I strongly recommend you take shelter as soon as possible. This means a solid, sturdy building. Here’s a list of places you do NOT want to be:

  • out in the open
  • under trees
  • near water
  • on a golf course
  • anywhere that makes you the tallest object

If you are near a car, get in it! The lightning’s electricity will pass through the car, keeping you safe. If you are caught outside, there is a last resort. You must crunch down to your knees, while still on your feet (DON’T lay on your stomach). Look straight to the ground and wrap your arms around your knees. You will need to do this quickly because you may have only a few seconds to react. Once you feel static electricity pass through your body while caught outside, this is the only safe defense you have from lightning. Another clue you will have before you know you will be struck is: you’ll notice your hair on your arms and head standing up towards the sky.

One final note on lightning safety, there is a thing called “bolt from the blue.” This refers to lightning that travels through clear skies. Lightning is capable of traveling dozens, possibly hundreds of miles. Even after a thunderstorm passes, I strongly urge you from going back outside until 30 minutes from the last bolt has passed. Lightning kills nearly 60 people per year in the United States alone. Please don’t become a statistic!

Special thanks to Joe Hansel, morning meteorologist for KCWY channel 13 in Casper, Wyoming, for sharing this information. Check out Joe’s Weather Blog for more weather information.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.


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