Parenting: Lightning Safety

David Murphy says lightning strikes quickly and can travel far.

Murph the Meteorologist says warmer spring weather means it's "reminder time" for the kiddies
March 31, 2012 10:12:06 AM PDT
Even after a mild winter, the chances are pretty good that as we roll into spring your kids are going to be embracing the outdoors with renewed enthusiasm. The warmer weather brings a few extra challenges from Mother Nature and it's not a bad idea to get your kids thinking about them early.

The most obvious warm weather threat is a thunderstorm. While storms can technically occur in any month of the year, they are most prevalent in April, May and June and still common in July, August and September. Storms can form in a hurry and can threaten areas far from their centers.

In this blog, I'll discuss the prime long-distance threat produced by any thunderstorm: lightning. As soon as your kids hear thunder, they should immediately head for cover. Thunder is the by-product of a lightning strike and it always signals danger.

If your kids are involved in outdoor organized sports, their coaches should immediately pull the team off the field. This is because lightning can travel many miles from the point it initiates. In fact, most of the time when people are struck by lightning, it happens well before a storm is on top of them and before any rain has begun to fall. Of course, it can also happen when it's raining, so there's no free pass there.

A sure sign that a lightning strike is imminent is if your child's hair stands-up off the scalp (or if this happens to anyone else in the vicinity). This is actually a sign that the affected person's body is in the process of making a connection with an opposite charge in the atmosphere above.

When this happens, a lightning strike is likely less than 30 seconds away. In this case, it may be too late to run for cover. Unless they are within a few feet of shelter, advise your child to squat close to the ground and curl themselves up into a ball with feet still on the ground.

Otherwise, your children should seek appropriate shelter which is either inside a car or inside a solid, walled and windowed building.

Never take shelter beneath a tree. Trees can act as lightning rods, attracting a bolt. As the lightning shoots down the tree trunk, it will arc through the air and make contact with anyone standing nearby.

Once your child is inside a safe place, the windows should be closed. Inside a building, they should also take care not to stand near any wiring or plumbing in case a strike hits the structure and passes through those channels to the ground.

It's also important not to use a hard-wired telephone when a thunderstorm is in the area. Cell phones, however, are absolutely safe during a lightning storm. Once a storm has passed, your child should wait until they can no longer hear thunder before they head back outside.

Lightning myth: lightning is attracted to water. Nope. While it's true that a high percentage of lightning deaths occur near lakes, rivers and the ocean, the reason is that thunderstorms often form during hot weather and people congregate near water when it's hot. Thunderstorms are no less or more likely to occur near open water.

For more information on thunderstorms and dozens of other weather topics, check-out my Action News Weather Class channel on I've written roughly 150 short articles on various topics, many of them originally posed by school students and viewers.

---David Murphy

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