What’s the worst place to be during a lightning storm?
Standing in a wading pool at the top of the Burj Khalifa while holding a metal rod into the air would probably be the most correct answer to that question, but listed below are some more practical places to avoid when lightning strikes.
Under a tree
When a thunderstorm suddenly hits an open outdoor area, people naturally look for shelter. However welcoming a tall, isolated tree may seem during a downpour, it’s best to stay clear of it if you hear thunder.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lightning will typically strike the tallest object in a given space, as it requires the shortest distance between a cloud and the object with a positive electrical charge. Trees are also likely to be struck by lightning because the water and sap inside some of them acts as a conductor.
On a sailboat
Cruise ships and well-equipped yachts are no picnic to be aboard during a lightning storm but with a lightning protection system installed, the electricity will mostly be diverted to the water. However, less sophisticated boats like sailboats and rowboats are dangerous to be aboard when a storm hits.
The NOAA warns that when a boat’s masthead is seen glowing red, it’s a sign of an extreme electrical buildup that can attract a lightning bolt in minutes. That phenomenon, called “St. Elmo’s Fire,” is a sign to get below deck or off the water immediately.
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Inside, talking on a land-line phone
Being at home or inside a building when a thunderstorm hits is the best place to be but it doesn’t mean immunity from lightning strikes. Weather safety experts recommend staying away from plumbing, walls that may have electrical wires and the telephone when lightning is in the area.
According to the National Weather Service, talking on a land-line phone during a storm is one of the leading causes of lightning-related injuries in the U.S. Using a computer that's plugged into a power source can also lead to injuries.
On open farmland
Any open space is a bad place to be during a lightning storm but farmers seem to be especially susceptible to fatal strikes. Some of the most common activities victims are engaged in include herding livestock and baling hay, according to the NWS.
Outside, a few minutes after a storm passes
Many lightning-related injuries occur once the weather has cleared, as people step back outside. Bolts can strike miles away from a storm and for this reason, it’s recommended to wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before going back outside.
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On a covered porch
Covered shelters are fine for protection against rain but they don’t protect against lightning strikes. The same goes for open garages or carports, where it’s safer to be inside a car with the windows up. Any shelter that isn’t fully enclosed, with a roof, walls and a floor, isn’t a safe place to be during a lightning storm.
In a tent
Campers have limited options when a lightning storm hits but staying inside a tent is one of the worst options. According to Environment Canada, “Lying on the ground in a tent during a lightning storm would maximize the chances of being hurt.” Experts recommend getting inside a hard-top car with the windows up in one of these situations.
On metal bleachers in central Florida
There’s a reason outdoor sporting events are quickly postponed at the first sign of lightning. Metal bleachers would obviously be a bad place to be during a storm but this goes especially for people in central Florida. The state sees more lightning strikes each year than anywhere else in the United States. In fact, an area from Tampa to Orlando has been dubbed “lightning alley.”
Download the Lightning Cast app from the iTunes store for instant push alert notifications when lightning strikes near you or one of your designated places.
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Clint Davis covers entertainment and trending news topics for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.