In The Spotlight
Staying Safe in a Thunderstorm
Thunderstorms are nature’s own firework shows. They can be spectacular, with dazzling flashes of lightning, rolling booms of thunder and the heavy beat of the rain on the roof. Many kids (and adults) are frightened of thunderstorms. Lightning can be dangerous, so let’s find out how to stay safe.
Although it is something that happens fairly rarely, lightning can strike people. The safest thing to do when a thunderstorm approaches is to immediately go inside a sturdy building with four walls, for example a classroom or your house. When inside, avoid touching any electrical items that are plugged into the wall, like a landline phone or a desktop computer, because lightning can pass down electrical wires. Oftentimes, your parents may unplug electrical items in the house during a thunderstorm to protect them from surges caused by lightning strikes. It’s best to avoid the sink and the shower until the storm has passed. Open-sided buildings such as baseball dugouts are not a safe place to be in a thunderstorm.
Another safe place to shelter during a thunderstorm is inside a metal vehicle with a hard roof, like a car or a bus. Once you are inside the vehicle, close the windows and sit with your hands in your lap. If the vehicle is struck by lightning, the lightning passes through the metal shell and out into the ground, and anyone inside is safe. When inside the vehicle, don’t touch metal parts such as the key ignition or the radio because metal conducts electricity.
Stay in your safe building or vehicle for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
As water conducts electricity, it is important to immediately get out of a swimming pool or the ocean if a thunderstorm is coming. You should move well away from the water. Lightning tends to strike at the highest point, so never remain standing on an open playing field, and never shelter under a tree.
It is perfectly normal for some kids to feel nervous during a thunderstorm; after all the thunder can be very loud and the lightning flashes very bright. If you feel scared, you can sit and talk with an adult, play with your pets or wear ear plugs until the storm has passed. You may find that your pets get nervous in storms too, and you may have to soothe them to keep them calm. Remember it may take a while, but the storm will pass.
You can tell roughly how far a storm is away by counting the seconds between a flash of lightning and the next boom of thunder. Take that number and divide it by 3. That will give you the approximate distance the storm is away from you in kilometres. You can use this method to figure out if a thunderstorm is moving closer or moving away from your location.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States has a good slogan to remember: “When thunder roars, go indoors!”