Thunderstorm and lightning safety

Posted March 1, 2009

Before the storm

Learn about severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, what kinds of damage they can produce and the dangers they present.

Have an emergency action plan for both your home and your workplace. Know where you will go if a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued.

Know what county you live and work in and where in the county you are located. Severe weather warnings are issued by county or a section of a county (northern Wake County, for example).

Before heading outdoors for an extended time, check the latest forecasts. If the risk of threatening weather is high, you may wish to postpone your plans.

Make sure you always have access to a reliable source of weather information. A battery-powered NOAA weather radio will always provide you with the very latest weather information, including watches and warnings, and radios with an alarm feature will automatically alert you of any watches or warnings issued.

During the storm

You can protect yourself during thunderstorms by remembering this phrase: Get In, Get Down, add Cover Up.

Get In. Get as far inside a strong building as you can, and stay away from windows, which can easily break during strong winds or from flying debris.

Get Down. Get as low as possible, by going to the lowest floor of the building. A basement or underground shelter is best, if available. By crouching down, you are minimizing the possibility of being hit by flying debris.

Cover Up. Cover yourself (especially your head) with a pillow, blankets, or even a mattress, to further protect yourself from any flying debris. If possible, get beneath a workbench or table.


The National Weather Service does not issue warnings for lightning, and given the deadly nature of lightning, you should always be aware of the lightning danger anytime a thunderstorm is nearby. A good rule of thumb to live by is: When Thunder Roars Go Indoors.

Use thunder to gage the distance of a lightning strike. Count the number of seconds between the moment you see the flash of lightning and hear the clap of thunder. Once you see lightning, start counting seconds. For every 5 seconds that go by before you hear the clap of thunder, that’s one mile. Keep in mind this technique only tells you how far away that one lightning strike was from your location. The next one could be a lot closer. Lightning can travel as far as 10 to 12 miles from a thunderstorm.

If indoors, stay off of the telephone and away from windows.

If caught outdoors, stay away from trees, telephone poles and other tall objects.

When boating, try to seek safe shelter before the storm approaches. Stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.


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