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Avoid Being Hit by Lightning

Your risk of being struck by lightning is low—unless you make common mistakes.

Man running to avoid being hit by lightning, image
Photo caption
Your best move in a thunderstorm? Get indoors.

Mick Bohn, a pastor in Newcastle, Wyo., hopes lightning won’t strike twice. A bolt struck the back of his head one drizzly day on a South Dakota ranch. It scorched his beard, melted his jeans zipper, and flat out killed his horse. “It was a freak thing,” Bohn says. “Lightning goes where it wants to go.”

It’s true: Anyone can become a lightning rod, says John Jensenius, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s lightning safety specialist. Rubber-soled shoes won’t protect you, and squatting to stay low is nearly pointless. When the sky is crackling, he says, there’s only one option: “You need to get inside a shelter or a metal-topped vehicle.”

Of the several hundred people in the United States hit by lightning every year, most had a chance to get indoors, Jensenius says. If you’re caught in a thunderstorm, he advises avoiding high spots, tall trees, and wide-open areas. You can try blending in with inconspicuous, medium-size trees, but as the pastor says: Lightning goes where it wants to go.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.