How to Survive a Lightning Strike?

You’re hiking in the woods when a thunderstorm suddenly develops and you are probably thinking it’s no big deal. Though you might be right and would loathe to turn around and head back, thousands of people do die each year from lightning.

A bolt of lightning can reach temperatures up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s 5x hotter than the surface of the sun, and no surprise can cause serious injury and even kill you.

Although rare, chances are 1 in 500,000 but just to be safe, it’s a good idea to know a few do’s and don’ts.

How Far Away is Lightning?

One of the first things to be able to know is how far away a storm is. To find out, count the number of seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. Divide that by five and you will get a rough estimate.

If at all possible, try to do so from the safety of your home or automobile as, the general rule of 30 is – it’s best to stay there until you haven’t heard any thunder for at least 30 minutes. This is because lightning can strike from a storm that is 10 miles away.

Lightning strikes mostly those people who are outside and exposed, though if you’re indoors, you still shouldn’t be near any metal objects like windows or electrical appliances during a storm.

struck in lightning

Signs that Lightning is Near

If you’re caught outdoors when you notice indications that a lightning strike is approaching, the best thing to do is seek shelter. If you cant then stay where you are.

When you’re outdoors, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and what the weather is like. If you can, try to stay indoors during a thunderstorm. If you must go outside or are stuck outside seek shelter in a low-lying area away from trees or anything that might conduct or attract electricity.

Here is a list of signs that lightning might be near.

  • Your feel your hair stands on end
  • Your feel your skin start to tingle
  • You hear a buzzing or crackling sound
  • You see metal objects start to emit a blue/whitish glow

If you experience any of the above symptoms that mean you are immediately in danger. In such a case:

Get low to the ground with your feet together hands over your head and cover hear ears

If you can’t find shelter, then crouch low to the ground. This will make you a smaller target for lightning and will also reduce your exposure to the ground, which can travel if it strikes nearby.

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Make sure to crouch down with your feet together, and hands covering your head. This will help to minimize your contact with the ground.

The balls of your feet should be the only thing touching the ground. It’s possible that lightning will strike the earth first and then travel into your body. The more you reduce your contact with the ground, the less likely electricity will enter your body.

Touch your heels together – because if electricity from a ground strike enters your feet, the electric current is more likely to travel from one foot to the next rather than throughout your body.

What to do if you are caught in a lightning storm?

If you are caught outside in a lightning storm, here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of surviving:

1. Find shelter indoors in a building or car

If you can, seek shelter indoors in a building or car. It’ll protect you from the majority of lightning strikes, although it won’t always keep you safe. If you are in a car, make sure to roll up the windows and avoid touching any metal surfaces.

2. Don’t lie flat on the ground

If you can’t find shelter and are forced to lie on the ground, do not lie flat. This will make as you want as little contact with the ground as possible. Instead, try to create as small a target by crouching down, hands v with your feet together.

3. Avoid water

If you can, avoid bodies of water. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity and you don’t want to be anywhere near it during a lightning storm.

4. Avoid metal objects

You are going to want to avoid touching any metal objects as metal can also conduct electricity, so it’s best to avoid them as well.

Lightning Striking too close to home

Lightning Precaution Tips

  1. Even if the sky is clear, and you cant see a storm you can be struck. Lightning can do more than travel up and down. Some movements wander sideways for up to 10 miles before striking down, appearing as though it’s coming from out of the clear blue sky.
  2. 30/30 formula. The 30/30 rule can prevent a majority of strikes. The guideline reminds you to go indoors when the lightning and thunder arrive within 30 seconds (about 6 miles) of each other, and to remain in for 30 minutes afterward.
  3. Now is not the time for a phone conversation. Inside a house is by far the safest location during a storm, since it has normal plumbing and wiring systems that will assist with grounding. But stay away from those fixtures and big windows. Even staying on landline phone contact is not a safe option.
  4. Keep your hands to yourself in the car. Because of the rubber tires and the surrounding metal, a vehicle is a relatively safe location from lightning. Keep the windows up and avoid touching any of the metal interior.
  5. CPR is effective. Lightning strikes kill approximately 10% of those it touches, but some can be saved. The strike often can cause a person’s heart to stop. If you see someone who has been struck and then loses consciousness, begin chest compressions, give CPR and if possible get an AED if there is one nearby.

What to do if someone is struck by lightning?

If someone is struck by lightning seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or your local medical number. If the person is not breathing you can administer CPR but do not try and move the victim, rather have them stay where they are until help arrives.

Symptoms of Lightning Strike

Symptoms of someone who may have been struck by lightning include:

  • Burns
  • Breathing problems
  • Confusion and disoriented
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Vision problems

Effects of a lightning strike

Lightning kills people about 10% of the time, but those who survive to develop long-term impairments in approximately 30% of cases.

There can come a wide range of long-term effects including memory loss, difficulty thinking or concentrating, dizziness, headaches, irritability, and other long-term effects are all possible.

Some people will not experience any of these symptoms; others may have only a few. Even the presence of one or two problems can be quite debilitating—particularly if they persist.

If you are struck by lightning be sure to visit a doctor even if you are not experiencing any symptoms as they might go unnoticed for some time. Get a check-up and if you are in need of any support groups there are a number of them out there such as the Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors International.

How to Avoid a Lightning Strike?

The simplest and easiest thing that you can do is to avoid going outdoors during a thunderstorm. If you must go outside, monitor the weather conditions and be aware of when thunderstorms are forecasted. If possible, reschedule your plans so that you can avoid being outdoors during a storm.

If you can hear thunder, and see dark rain clouds approaching that means you could find yourself in the middle of a storm. In such cases, seek shelter immediately as storms can reach your position quickly even if they appear to be on the horizon.


Lightning is an impressive force of nature, but it’s also one that can be deadly. Knowing the dangers of lightning and what to do if you find yourself in a storm can help save your life.

Avoid being outdoors during a thunderstorm, seek shelter indoors or in a car as soon as possible, and don’t touch any metal objects. If someone near you has been struck by lightning, call 911 immediately and provide first aid until medical help arrives. Stay Safe!

Photo by Eric Ward and Michelle McEwen/Unsplash

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