Facility Dude

Outdoor safety tips for weathering a lightning storm

By Kate Donnelly
Jul 06, 2015

Facilities Management, Safety and Risk Management

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Outdoor safety tips for weathering a lightning storm Thunderstorms are as much a part of summer as barbecues and pool days. For facility managers and building administrators, you likely won't be worrying too much about pool parties during the year's warmer months, but lightning and thunder will continue to crop up.

While the bulk of staying safe during a storm revolves around remaining indoors, that's not always a possibility Especially for facilities that employ outdoor repair teams, groundskeepers or other professionals who may find themselves caught outside in a storm, knowing how to keep personnel safe is essential.

When possible, stay indoors

It goes without saying, but the best thing to do if you find yourself trapped outside in a storm is to get indoors. The grounding and insulation provided by buildings is going to be your No. 1 defense against potential lightning strikes. If there is no building nearby, a vehicle with rubber tires can also be a safe haven in a pinch. Whatever  you do, do not seek shelter beneath a tree, gazebo or other open structure, as these can actually attract lightning strikes.

Know the danger areas

Just because the thunder you're hearing sounds like it's off in the distance doesn't mean you don't have to worry about potential lightning strikes. In fact, according to the American Camp Association, lightning can travel up to several miles horizontally from the thunderhead that is its source. This can result in what are known as "bolts from the blue" - lightning strikes that appear to come from a clear sky as a result of this phenomenon. The U.S. Youth Soccer Organization noted that if you can hear the thunder, you are potentially in danger of lightning strikes. In fact, many lightning-related injuries occur because people wait too long to seek shelter. Don't make the same mistake - if you hear thunder, it's time to take safety into account.

Act fast

One key to avoiding lightning strikes is to not waste time when it becomes apparent that a storm is coming. The ACA recommended what it calls the "30/30" rule for staying safe outdoors in a lightning storm: Seek shelter as soon as you see lightning or hear thunder. If the delay between the lightning and the thunder is 30 seconds or less, you should already be in shelter. It's then important to stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last crack of thunder you hear.

Many outdoor sporting leagues and recreational facilities hold off on canceling events until rain appears, but this is a mistake. When it comes to safety, rain can create hazards in the form of slipping and wet patches, but lightning strikes can be fatal and should be treated as the primary concern.

Know what to avoid

The outdoors is notorious for its lack of safe cover in a lightning storm. Even with that in mind, there are some locations that are worse than others that you should take extra precautions to avoid.

For example, steer clear of any open field or similar space. Lightning is attracted to height, and if you're among the tallest objects in an otherwise empty field, your chances of being struck are higher than are comfortable. Similarly, stay away from isolated tall trees, gazebos or other singular tall objects, as they are far more likely to attract lightning than to repel it.

The primary thing to keep in mind when weathering a storm outdoors is to get to low ground so you reduce the chance that you'll attract lightning. If you're in a group of people, spread out to minimize the risk that the current from an errant strike branches out to the rest of your companions.

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