Lightning safety in an open field

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Although it sounds cliché, lightning can strike during any season of the year.  It can be a significant hazard, both out in the open and near your home or office.  The highest danger is when you are exposed with very little protection, as when you are out in the field. 

Lightning has a lot of power and can kill or severely injure a person when it strikes.  It is important to take cover when lightning is in the area, as there have been reports of it striking as far away as 75 miles from its source.  The speed of light is roughly five times that of sound.  Once you see lightning, start counting.  Divide that number by five, and that will tell you how many miles away the storm is.  For example, if you count to 10, then the storm is two miles away.

Often times, you will be forewarned that lightning may be approaching. Be aware of the weather forecast, and on the watch for thunderstorm development.  Many times a significant, palpable, shift to cooler air temperature and an increase in winds will precede lightning.  If thunder is heard, then you are certainly within striking distance.

All lightning originates from thunderstorms.  There is no such thing as “heat lightning”.  If you see a flash in the distance, the storm is likely far enough away that it is beyond the horizon.

If you find yourself out in an open field, take cover immediately.  The best cover is an enclosed building, away from electrical and plumbing.  Picnic areas with open sides, carports, or other open structures are not safe structures.  Another option is an enclosed metal-topped vehicle, like a truck or other passenger vehicle.  Pull off to a stop, in a low-lying area if possible when you are in a smaller vehicle.  A tractor (open or enclosed cab), convertible or Jeep-style vehicles are not safe options. 

Should there be no safe cover in a building or vehicle, your last resort is to crouch down and be as small as possible in a low lying area.  Do not lie flat, but squat down or kneel with your head between your knees.  If you have a fencepost or other taller object in your area, position yourself about 30 feet away from it.  Stay away from water or isolated trees and tall structures that could attract lightning.

After you take cover, remain there until the threat passes.  Wait until the sound of thunder is away from the area. With these safety tips, you can take the best precautions against a lightning strike while out in open fields.  For more information, visit the NOAA Lightning Safety website.



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