The capricious nature of thunderstorms makes them extremely dangerous; however, following proven lightning safety guidelines can reduce your risk of injury or death. You are ultimately responsible for your personal safety and that of your family.


You have the responsibility to act when threatened by lightning.

No place is absolutely safe from lightning; however, some places are much safer than others. The safest location during lightning activity is an enclosed building. The second safest location is an enclosed metal vehicle, car, truck, van, etc., but NOT a convertible, bike or other topless or soft top vehicle.



Safe Buildings

A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, such as a home, school, office building or a shopping center. Even inside, you should take precautions. Picnic shelters and other partially open structures such as an awning over a picnic table are NOT safe.

Enclosed buildings are safe because of wiring and plumbing. If lightning strikes these types of buildings, or an outside telephone pole, the electrical current from the flash will typically travel through the wiring or the plumbing into the ground. This is why you should stay away from showers, sinks, hot tubs, etc., and electronic equipment such as TVs, radios, and computers. Lightning can damage or destroy electronics so its important to have a proper lightning protection system connected to your electronic equipment. The American Meteorological Society has tips for protecting your electronics from lightning.


Unsafe Buildings

Examples of buildings which are unsafe include car ports, covered but open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach shacks/pavilions, golf shelters, camping tents, large outdoor tents, baseball dugouts and other partially open structures.






To estimate the distance between you and a lightning flash, use the "Flash to Bang" method: If you observe lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles. 


Example: If you see lightning and it takes 10 seconds before you hear the thunder, then the lightning is 2 miles away from you (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles).




How Far Away Is Lightning From Me? 





Get to a safe location if the time between the lightning flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less.



A safe vehicle is a hard-topped car, SUV, minivan, bus, tractor, etc. (soft-topped convertibles are not safe). If you seek shelter in your vehicle, make sure all doors are closed and windows rolled up. Do not touch any metal surfaces.

If you're driving when a thunderstorm starts, pull off the roadway. A lightning flash hitting the vehicle could startle you and cause temporary blindness, especially at night. Do not use electronic devices such as HAM radios or cell phones during a thunderstorm. Lightning striking the vehicle, especially the antennas, could cause serious injury if you are talking on the radio or holding the microphone at the time of the flash.

Your vehicle and its electronics may be damaged if hit by lightning. Vehicles struck by lightning are known to have flat tires the next day. This occurs because the lightning punctures tiny holes in the tires. Vehicles have caught fire after being struck by lightning; however, there is no modern day documented cases of vehicles "exploding" due to a lightning flash.


Bolts From the Blue

One of the most dangerous types of cloud-to-ground lightning is a bolt from the blue. A "Bolt from the Blue" is a cloud-to-ground lighting flash that typically:


  • Comes out of the back side of the thunderstorm cloud,

  • Travels a relatively large distance in clear air away from the storm cloud, and

  • Angles down and strikes the ground.


These lightning flashes have been documented to travel more than 25 miles away from the thunderstorm cloud. Bolt from the Blue lightning flashes are particularly dangerous types of lightning flashes, as they appear to come out of a clear sky. This type of lightning is why it is dangerous to be outside when thunderstorms are in the region, even when skies are still clear. Lightning can, and does, strike many miles away from the thunderstorm cloud itself. It is a good idea to wait 30 minutes or more after the rain ends before resuming outdoor activities.



Motorcyclist/Bicyclist: So, has anyone been hit while riding a bike?


Protect yourself when on a bicycle, motorcycle or dirt bike:

  • Carry a portable NWR or listen to the radio

  • If you see threatening skies in the distance and you are passing a safe location, pull over and wait 30 minutes after the last thunder crack

  • If you can turn around and get away from the storm, do so

  • DO NOT ride into a lighting storm!


If you absolutely cannot get to a safe building or vehicle, here are some last resort choices:


  • Wait out the storm below an overpass. DO NOT touch steel girders. Move away from your bike. Remain on the dry surfaces if possible. Overpasses are engineered structures and are likely to be properly grounded. Although an overpass is likely to be higher than the surrounding landscape, if it is struck by lightning, the electrical current will likely be channeled safely into the ground

  • Look for a bridge. Stay away from water. Stay away from any metal surfaces. Be alert for rapidly rising water if under a bridge

  • High tension wires:  If high voltage electrical tension wires cross the road, you may want to seek shelter directly underneath these wires. Do not get too close to the large metal towers which hold up these wires. Stay at least 50 feet away. Electric companies design these high tension wires for lightning strikes. If lighting should strike the wires or towers, the current is designed to safely go deep into the ground


If you are caught in the open and lightning is occurring within 5 miles, STOP riding, get off of your motorcycle/bicycle, find a ditch or other low spot and get into the lightning safety position.




Lightening Safety Position