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Hot tip: Don’t tempt lightning strike

Take cover in a building at the first rumble of thunder

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Editor's note: Part 2 of 2.

On average, lightning causes more deaths annually than any other storm-related phenomenon, except floods. Many people incur injuries or are killed due to misinformation and inappropriate behavior during thunderstorms. A few simple precautions can reduce many of the dangers posed by lightning.

At the first sounds of thunder you should clear the area and move quickly to shelter. Then take the following steps:

If it is impossible to move into a building during a thunderstorm, move into an automobile and keep the windows closed. Small nonmetallic structures such a pavilions, sheds or bus shelters do not provide protection.

If you are in a house or building, do not use the telephone or any electrical appliance. Do not use showers, sinks or anything where you are in contact with the plumbing system. If lightning strikes the building you are in, an electrical current will flow through the wiring or water pipes.

Stay away from tall, isolated objects, such as trees, flagpoles or posts. Dense woods are relatively safe because of the large number of trees. However, do not stand too close to any one tree.

Avoid open areas, such as large fields, parks and parking lots.

Stay away from lakes, ponds, railroad tracks and fences that could act as a conductor to bring the current from a distant lightning strike.

If you are caught in the open without time to find shelter, seek a low area, squat down, bend forward (similar to a baseball catcher's stance) and place your hands over your ears. Do not lie down.

If lightning is about to strike you or something relatively close, you may experience a tingling sensation or your hair may stand on end. If that occurs, quickly get into the position described above.

If you come across one or more people who have been hit by lightning, immediately attend to the person who is quiet and motionless.

Check the ABCs (open the airway by tilting the head backward, check breathing by looking at the chest and check circulation by looking for coughing and movement. Note: American Heart Association guidelines for lay rescuers does not use the pulse check but now uses breathing, coughing and movement for signs of circulation).

If there are no signs of breathing or circulation, give CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) for at least 30 minutes. Obtain immediate medical care.

Lightning's behavior is random and unpredictable. Preparedness and quick response are the best defenses against the risk of injury or death. An individual ultimately must take responsibility for his or her own safety and should take appropriate action when threatened by lightning. School teachers, camp counselors, coaches, lifeguards and parents must take responsibility for the safety of children in their care.


Alton Thygerson, professor of health sciences at Brigham Young University, is the National Safety Council's first aid and CPR author and technical consultant. For more information, the National Safety Council First Aid Handbook by Thygerson is available in local bookstores.