Summer is thunderstorm season in most of the United States. Scientists still aren’t entirely sure how clouds become electrically charged in cold weather, but in general, the cold temperatures—as low as 13 degrees below zero—and rapidly moving air create small ice crystals, which become electrically charged when they jostle each other. The positively charged crystals tend to move upward while the negatively charged ones move downward, so the entire cloud is electrically polarized. The positively charged top spreads out, leaving a massive, negatively charged core. This creates a positive charge on the ground below, with results similar to a static shock, only on a larger scale.
That doesn’t mean it’s harmless, however. So far, four men and three women have been killed by lightning in 2013, most recently a man fishing on Lake Okeechobee in Florida on June 8th—and lightning strike fatalities typically peak in July, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. Here are some tips to keep you safe:
- All seven fatalities happened outside. Being near buildings may be safer than an open field or on the water, but nowhere outside is truly safe from lightning. When thunder roars, go indoors
- Seek shelter in an enclosed vehicle with a metal roof or a building with electricity or plumbing. Under a tree is not only unsafe, it is the second leading cause of lightning deaths
- Your house is pretty safe, but stay away from electrical appliances and metal fixtures.
- Don’t lean against or lie down on concrete.
- If you’re caught outside during a storm, avoid high places, bodies of water, and anything conductive such as barbed wire. Don’t lie flat and don’t stand under anything that could fall on you.
Thunderstorms can be dangerous, but it’s a danger that can be managed if you know how. Just be aware of your surroundings and get inside when you hear the thunder.