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How to Avoid a Lightning Strike

Getting hit by lighting is rare, but in a storm, there are ways to stay safe.  

Your best bet is to get indoors during a thunderstorm.
Photo caption
Your best bet is to get indoors during a thunderstorm.

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

Anyone can be a lightning rod, says John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rubber-soled shoes won’t protect you, and squatting to stay low is nearly pointless. “You need to get inside a shelter or a metal-topped vehicle,” Jensenius says.

Of the several hundred U.S. citizens struck by lightning every year, the specialist notes, most had a chance to get indoors. If you’re ever caught out in a thunderstorm, he advises avoiding high spots, tall trees, or wide-open areas. You can try blending in with some 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 May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.