Summer is the peak season for one of the
nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning.
Safeguarding U.S. residents from dangerous lightning is
the goal of this Website. The campaign is designed to lower
lightning death and injury rates and America's vulnerability
to one of nature's deadliest hazards.
In the United States, an average of 66 people are killed
each year by lightning. In 2004, there were 32 deaths
attributed to lightning, down from 44 thanks in part to
increased education and safety. In 2005, there were
at least 43 deaths confirmed deaths and 172 confirmed
injuries. The injury number is likely far lower
than it should be because many people do not seek help or
doctors do not record it as a lightning injury.
People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of
long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss,
attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness,
stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle
spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long.
Lightning is a serious danger. Through this site we hope
you'll learn more about lightning risks and how to protect
yourself, your loved ones and your belongings. As a start,
get an overview of
Lightning Safety or stop by our comprehensive page of
handouts, brochures, links and more.
In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million
cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. Lightning can
be fascinating to watch, but it is also extremely dangerous.
During the past 30 years, lightning killed an average of 67
people per year in the United States based on documented
cases. This is more than the average of 65 deaths per year
caused by tornadoes and the average of 16 deaths per year
caused by hurricanes. However, because lightning usually
claims only one or two victims at a time, and because
lightning does not cause the mass destruction left in the
wake of tornadoes or hurricanes, lightning generally
receives much less attention than the more destructive
weather-related killers. While documented lightning injuries
in the United States average about 300 per year,
undocumented injuries caused by lightning are likely much
Awareness: Education is Key
Few people really understand the dangers of lightning.
Many people don't act promptly to protect their lives,
property and the lives of others because they don't
understand all the dangers associated with thunderstorms and
lightning. The first step in solving this problem is to
educate people so that they become aware of the behavior
that puts them at risk of being struck by lightning, and to
let them know what they can do to reduce that risk. Coaches
and other adults who make decisions affecting the safety of
children must understand the dangers of lightning.
Watch for Developing
Thunderstorms are most likely to develop on warm summer
days and go through various stages of growth, development
and dissipation. On a sunny day, as the sun heats the air,
pockets of warmer air start to rise in the atmosphere. When
this air reaches a certain level in the atmosphere, cumulus
clouds start to form. Continued heating can cause these
clouds to grow vertically upward in the atmosphere into
"towering cumulus" clouds. These towering cumulus may be one
of the first indications of a developing thunderstorm.
The Lightning Discharge:
Don't Be a Part of It
During a thunderstorm, each flash of cloud-to-ground
lightning is a potential killer. The determining factor on
whether a particular flash could be deadly depends on
whether a person is in the path of the lightning discharge.
In addition to the visible flash that travels through the
air, the current associated with the lightning discharge
travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck
directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are
struck as the current moves in and along the ground.
While virtually all people take some protective actions
during the most dangerous part of thunderstorms, many leave
themselves vulnerable to being struck by lightning as
thunderstorms approach, depart, or are nearby.
Thunderstorm: When to Seek Safe Shelter
Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the
rain area in a thunderstorm. That's about the distance you
can hear thunder. When a storm is 10 miles away, it may even
be difficult to tell a storm is coming.
IF YOU CAN HEAR THUNDER, YOU ARE WITHIN STRIKING
DISTANCE. SEEK SAFE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY!
The first stroke of lightning is just as deadly as the
last. If the sky looks threatening, take shelter before
The 30-30 Rule
Use the 30-30 rule where visibility is good and there is
nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you
see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If
that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within
6 miles of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.
The threat of lightning continues for much longer period
than most people realize. Wait at least 30 minutes after the
last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. Don't be fooled
by sunshine or blue sky!
If it is cloudy or objects are obscuring your vision, get
inside immediately. It is always safer to take precautions
than to wait.
Minimize the Risk of Being Struck
Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States
occur during the summer months when the combination of
lightning and outdoor summertime activities reaches a peak.
During the summer, people take advantage of the warm weather
to enjoy a multitude of outdoor recreational activities.
Unfortunately, those outdoor recreational activities can put
them at greater risk of being struck by lightning. People
involved in activities such as boating, swimming, fishing,
bicycling, golfing, jogging, walking, hiking, camping, or
working out of doors all need to take the appropriate
actions in a timely manner when thunderstorms approach.
Where organized sports activities take place, coaches,
umpires, referees, or camp counselors must protect the
safety of the participants by stopping the activities
sooner, so that the participants and spectators can get to a
safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant.
To reduce the threat of death or injury, those in charge of
organized outdoor activities should develop and follow a
plan to keep participants and spectators safe from
Things to Avoid
Inside homes, people must also avoid activities which put
their lives at risk from a possible lightning strike. As
with the outdoor activities, these activities should be
avoided before, during, and after storms. In particular,
people should stay away from windows and doors and avoid
contact with anything that conducts electricity. People may
also want to take certain actions well before the storm to
protect property within their homes, such as electronic
Helping a Lightning
If a person is struck by lightning, medical care may be
needed immediately to save the person's life. Cardiac arrest
and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in
cases where people are struck by lightning. However, with
proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims
survive a lightning strike, although the long-term effects
on their lives and the lives of family members can be
Lightning is a dangerous threat to people in the United
States, particularly those outside in the summer. With
common sense, we can greatly reduce the number of lightning
deaths. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place,
stay there longer than you think you need to, stay away from
windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that