A jolt of awareness: Protecting your family and home from lightning

Weather Stories

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Lightning starts dozens of house fires every year. Knowing what to do before lightning strikes could save you money and, more importantly, your life.

Many people think the odds of getting struck by lightning are too low to worry about, but when you are the tallest object in an open field, you are the easiest target for a lightning strike.

Remember the saying, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

But what if your shelter gets hit by lightning?

“You might not know if it is a direct hit from a lightning strike, but if you do know it is a direct hit, always evacuate and call 911,” said Battalion Chief Jose Ocadiz, Wichita Fire Department. “You need to have a secondary shelter place also, but you always want to make sure you are still safe and don’t go out into the inclement weather at that time.”

Elizabeth Stanton was sitting with her children when lightning struck their neighbor’s house.

“I had our laptop on my lap, and it was plugged into the wall,” she said. “And all of a sudden, you could hear this lightning just strike. It was deafening loud and we felt shocked. We got a shock through the laptop.”

No harm came to them or their house, but their neighbors were not so lucky. Stanton discovered that when she went outside to check for damage. Her neighbors were not home at the time, but their garage door was now open.

“The lightning had actually fried the garage door openers, and the doors were up,” Stanton said. “The sprinkler system had been fried. All of the electronics in their home had been fried. Like we’re talking the refrigerator, the oven, every single one of their TVs, anything that was like an electronic device was no longer working.”

Everything had to be replaced.

“It’d be better to have some type of surge protector that’s attached to your electrical panel, and sometimes those might be the possibility, even connected to some type of lightning rod that’s installed on top of your house or the top of the building itself,” Ocadiz said.

You may have heard that you should not take a shower during a lightning storm or plug appliances in during a lightning storm. Ocadiz says that is true.

“If your house or your building has been struck by lightning, it’s going to find its least resistant path to the ground. That’s through plumbing, that’s through water, that’s through any type of electrical wiring, even through an appliance,” he said. “There is a possibility that it’s going to, you’re going to be a median, the middle path, to the ground itself.”

We asked if he has any other advice to stay safe during a lightning storm.

“Just be cautious,” Ocadiz said. “Be proactive and adhere to what the meteorologists are telling us during these times or these storms that are coming.

He also recommends avoiding looking out windows during lightning storms.

“It is cool to look at, but for the safety purposes, you don’t know how and where that lightning is going to strike at, and it might be in that path of least resistance near that window or even in the shower, or using a major appliance that might cause some type of surge explosion.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says being indoors does not automatically protect you. It says about one-third of lightning-strike injuries happen indoors.

The CDC suggests staying away from concrete floors or walls, because lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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