With the unofficial start of summer here, showers and storms are common in Kansas. Folks are outside enjoying the warmer weather, maybe heading out to a local lake or splashing in the backyard pool. Plans may take you to an outdoor sporting event or park. If showers and storms are in the area, lightning quickly can become a concern.
When you are caught outside and need to find shelter quickly because you can hear thunder rumbling in the distance, where should you go? The safest place will always be a sturdy structure like a home, but you may not always be close to one to get away from an approaching storm. Seeking shelter under trees, on a lake or in a park pavilion are some of the most dangerous locations to hide from lightning.
When an indoor sturdy structure with four walls is not available to you, your next best spot will be inside of a hard-topped vehicle. A common myth is that the rubber on the tires will protect you from the lightning when it is actually the metal frame of the vehicle that helps to disperse the electrical discharge from the bolt to the ground.
Water should also be avoided. A body of water is a conductor of electricity which means the electric current from the lightning bolt can travel through the water. If you are at a park or camping when a storm hits, seeking shelter under a tent, pavilion, or even a dugout is not a safe option. It would be the equivalent of standing under a tree. You would not be protected from a bolt if it struck the object you were standing under. Not only can rainwater pooling on the ground help conduct the electrical current from the lightning bolt, but these structures often have metal as a part of their framework and are taller. Concrete structures are built around metal piping which would help to conduct the electrical current.
If you hear thunder or see lightning, remember you are close enough to get struck by lightning. Hurry to the nearest shelter. You do not want to be the tallest object. If on a hill, seek lower ground. Be aware of any metal or tall objects nearby or bodies of water that may help conduct electricity if struck by lightning. Do not lie flat on the ground.
If crouching is your last resort on your way to seek shelter, be sure to crouch down with your knees to your chest and your feet on the ground with your hands over your head and ears. You want to make the least amount of contact with the ground as possible while being low to the ground. If you are part of a larger group, disperse the group. If lightning does strike, it can potentially help protect the others in the group from more serious injuries.
Each year in the United States, lightning remains one of the top five weather-related causes of fatalities. While we all want to enjoy the outdoors, especially on days when storms are expected, it is important to remain weather aware and have a plan in place before you leave in case of storms. It is usually the first thunderstorm-related hazard to arrive and the last one to leave. You are safe to resume outdoor activities 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning has been detected as lightning can sometimes strike quite a ways away from the parent thunderstorm.
— Meteorologist Erika Paige