Many people have a fear of severe weather - lightning in particular. The fear of lightning and thunderstorms has two names: “brontophobia” and the more specific “astraphobia.” Thunderstorms are unpredictable, loud, and destructive – all reasons to have a healthy respect for lightning and thunder. When it comes to overcoming a fear of lightning, it’s important to educate yourself on the facts behind electric storms and how to keep you and your loved ones safe when they happen.
Statistics show that lightning hits the earth more than 8 million times a day. NOAA estimates that 400 people are hit by lightning every year, and 55 to 60 of these events are fatal. While this may be a shocking number, it is statistically lower than the number of individuals who get hit by cars, shot by guns or killed by hippos.
One strategy to help overcome your fear is to learn about lightning safety. Here are some of the most common questions regarding lightning storms, and what you can do to remain safe.
While you cannot be hit by lightning inside of your house, if the lightning strikes a telephone pole outside your home, it can travel through the wires. If you happen to be talking on the phone during a lightning storm, and lightning strikes the phone pole, you can receive a large shock from the electricity traveling through the phone line. If windows or doors are open, lightning can travel into your home, but will hit something metal before it strikes you.
Inside a home is the safest place to be during a lightning storm. Avoid touching electrical equipment, wiring, or metal objects such as door knobs. Do not use a corded phone during a lightning storm, or a washer/dryer, as these appliances contain electrical connections to the outside of the home. Also, avoid using water during a thunderstorm, as metal water pipes and tap water help carry electrical currents.
While you cannot be struck by lightning in a car, your vehicle may be struck. Fortunately, vehicles are large metal frames, which will absorb most of the lightning’s electricity. Anecdotal evidence shows that a vehicle can absorb a direct lightning hit quite well. The main effects of a vehicle lightning strike are a burned mark on the vehicle. There have been more severe damages reported, however, including tires blowing out. Lightning can travel through metal, so it’s important to stay away from metal objects like steering wheels or radios during a lightning storm.
Pull the vehicle over to the side of the road and shut off the engine. Sit with your hands in your lap until the storm passes. Never use a CB radio or other radio during a lightning storm, or handle metal components of a vehicle (such as a gear shifter, steering wheel, or keys in the ignition) during a thunderstorm.
Lightning can travel through metal water pipes and metal water pipe fittings. While the lightning itself can't hit you, the electrical force can. When you are in the shower, your body is much more susceptible to electrical shock. Another factor is that tap water contains impurities which can help carry the electrical current.
Never shower, take a bath, or use metal water faucets during a lightning storm.
It's nearly impossible to be struck by lightning through a closed window. Since glass cannot conduct electricity, it would take two lightning strikes to make it into the home: One to smash the glass in the window, and the other to get into the home.
Always close every window in the home at the first hint of a thunderstorm.
Simply having a cell phone does not increase the chance of being hit by lightning. Electricity always follows the path of least resistance, and will strike the closest object. If you are on top of a treeless mountain with a cell phone to your ear, you may be struck by lightning. But having a cell phone is not a determining factor. Many myths have made the rounds telling people to shed metal jewelry, cell phones, and belt buckles during a lightning storm, but thankfully, these are completely untrue.
Lightning storms are dangerous, but there are ways to keep you and your loved ones safe. The newest lightning safety saying that most authorities are adopting is “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.”
Preparation is the precursor to safety. Create a lightning safety plan for you and your family, which includes an easy-to-read list of reminders on what to do and what not to do during a lightning storm.
Never go outside during a thunderstorm, and only use a phone during an emergency. If someone is hit by lightning, they will not carry an electrical current. They are safe to touch and need medical attention as soon as possible.
A fear of lightning is very common, but by being prepared you can help keep everyone around you safe.