Be Safe: Indoor Lightning Tips

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

Do you know what weather phenomenon kills more Americans than hurricanes and tornadoes? It’s lightning.

Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors during the summer months, mostly in the afternoon and early evening. Lightning seeks the path of least resistance. If you are taller than your surroundings, or are standing next to a tall object (such as a tree), you are a prime target for a lightning strike.

The summer months are the most likely to have more lightning strikes. Although most lightning deaths and injuries occur outdoors, there are risks inside buildings as well.

A safe shelter is a building with electricity and/or plumbing or a hard topped vehicle with windows closed. Picnic shelters, dugouts, small buildings without plumbing or electricity are NOT safe.

Stay off corded phones. You can use cell phones or cordless phones if they are not in a charger. Don’t use computers or equipment directly connected to electricity, such as your stove. Stay out of the shower and away from other plumbing as well. You should also stay away from windows and doors. Small cracks in the frames can let lightning in.

Remember Your Pets. Doghouses are not safe shelters. Dogs that are chained to trees or chained to wire runners can easily fall victim to a lightning strike. Bring pets inside.

Protect Your Personal Property. In addition to direct strikes, lightning generates electrical surges that can damage electronic equipment some distance from the actual strike. Typical surge protectors will NOT protect equipment from a lightning strike. If you plan to be away from your home when thunderstorms are possible, unplug unneeded equipment. Do NOT unplug equipment during a thunderstorm as there is a risk you could be struck.

There are three main ways lightning enters structures: a direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, and through the ground. Once in a structure, lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio/television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Resource: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration