Dispelling nine myths about lightning safety

Lightning_Safety_SignThere’s no safe place outside in a lightning storm. Your best bet’s to get inside ASAP.

Of course, Scouting adventures take us deep into the outdoors, meaning sometimes there’s no “inside” to escape to.

In honor of Lightning Safety Awareness Week — June 22-28, 2014 — here are some ways to keep Scouts safe from deadly lightning strikes all year long.

First, know the BSA’s policy

The Boy Scouts of America has adopted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recommendation that when “Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! The only completely safe action is to get inside a safe building or vehicle.”

Right when lightning-prone conditions start to develop, go ahead and get inside a building or safe vehicle if you can. Why risk it?

The BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting has a section devoted to Lightning Risk Reduction.

There you’ll find steps for what to do if no shelter is available, including staying away from tall trees and spreading out.

Then, get trained

Don’t blow this training off, because it just may safe your life or the lives of your Scouts. The E-Learning Weather Hazards Course, available through MyScouting, is appropriate for youth of Boy Scout age and up and all adults.

“At least one member of any tour or activity should have the training,” says BSA Health and Safety guru Richard Bourlon.

Finally, let’s dispel some myths

I found these nine lightning-safety myths (and the truths that refute them) quite eye-opening:

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit nearly 100 times a year.

Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, NOT the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Don’t lean on doors during a thunderstorm.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.
Fact: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough. No game is worth death or life-long injuries. Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder. Adults are responsible for the safety of children.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones,Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter – don’t waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Source: NOAA’s Lightning Safety Page


  1. Guide to Safe Scouting says, “If camping, hiking, etc., far from a safe vehicle or building, avoid open fields, the top of a hill, or a ridge top”. Where do we hold most Camporees? In open fields.

  2. I’m somewhat confused by this statement: “in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows”

    While glass is an insulator, any electrical charge that is jumping kilometers will not be deterred by a pane of glass. (Similar to the fact that rubber tires aren’t the reason that a car is safe.)

  3. Weather Hazard training teaches scouts to find a low spot and crouch close to the ground. You’re last myth seems to conflict with that guideline. So now we’re advised to keep moving in an electrical storm?

    • Dave,

      I’d advise you to retake Weather Hazards training because all references to crouching have been removed. The BSA does suggest groups spread out, but no more crouching. You should keep walking toward a safe location.

      • So what is the current advice if you are out where there is no safe location (ie: backpacking in the wilderness)? Isn’t crouching down in the safest area better than the alternatives?

      • Thanks for the clarification. I took Weather Hazards late last year. The training was very helpful when foul weather threatened a planned campout. After reviewing the forecast, we determined it was still safe and had a great time despite the rain.

  4. Crouch close to the ground, minimizing your points of contact with the earth. Only your feet (or ideally the balls of your feet) should touch.

  5. When I was a kid, I was laying on the floor in front of the TV. An electrical storm came by and I got up and closed the window since rain was coming in. I sat on the couch next to my brother. Lightning struck close by and a ball of lighting came out of the electrical outlet into the middle of the floor where I way laying. Of course, my brother and I saw it and looked at each other. I wonder what would have happened to me if I got struck. Interestingly this did not affect the TV or other electrical devises in the house. The electrical ball was sort of purple colored. Has this happened to anybody else? I know of one person, my pastor. He started telling me his story by saying “You probably have never seen this before….” My reply was “Yes, I did.”
    We also had a tree struck by lightning which ran down the tree and through the rake of the roof and down the side of the cinderblock wall. It burned a 4 inch diameter hole through the roof, made an arch which blew out the cinderblock, and inside of the garage burned all of the wiring. My brother and I got in trouble for that as well and we did not do anything. We told my dad that God did it.
    I did experience just before a lightning strike that the air would crackle and the hair on my arm stood up, and then BOOM. It his the railroad cars parked across the street from my house.
    I love to watch electrical storms. Some people are scared of them, but I am amazed at the power, the dazzling, and the thunder. And then the gentle rain after a storm. Awesome if you are in a tent. It just puts you to sleep. STAY SAFE PEOPLE! We don’t need injured scouts.

  6. We use the IDAHO principle:
    Away from windows or doors
    Help victims
    Online training available at myscouting.org

  7. Why doesn’t the guide to safe scouting mention the weather hazards training? Especially since 1 person on a tour plan is required to have it!
    It also doesn’t mention Baloo training as a requirement for pack overnights/ Cub Scout camping?
    Time to update to give parents/ leaders once place to find outing requirements!

  8. I was struck by ground lightning when I was 15. I was on the back porch doing schoolwork. It wasn’t raining, there wasn’t any thunder. I could smell the rain in the air so I stood up to go inside. My finished math paper blew into the yard. I went to bend over to get it when this concussive shockwave glued me to the spot I was standing in. Lightning had struck about 15 feet from me. It was the first time that I had ever seen lightning go up from the ground and meet in the sky. Strange. Afterwards I felt extremely tired. So…I went to bed. Next day I couldn’t remember my friends, classes, teachers, where my locker was or my combination. When I asked at the office they looked at me like I was on drugs. It was in the Spring of my sophomore year. That was thirty years ago and I still have problems today. My autonomic nervous system is failing. Better to always be safe than sorry.

  9. I was visiting Camp Steiner on the anniversary of the lightning strike in 2009 with a boy who witnessed this event and met one of the other boys hit by the lightning and his family.

    Although it was a tragedy, the boy I was with, now a man, who saw this horrific event became an EMT and taught first aid and CPR to thousands of scouts as a camp counselor. Inadvertently this boys passing may save others in the future.

    Be safe in lightning storms and know how to respond!

  10. I was one of the Scoutmasters at the 1993 National Jamboree at Ft. A. P. Hill in Virginia. When we got to our sub camp our equipment was supposed to have been unloaded at our designated campsite. It wasn’t, and as we got there around lunchtime I told the kids to go over to a quansit hut about 50 yards from our camp and eat their lunch. (it had started to rain with a few rumbles of thunder) I was going to go look for our gear after we ate and as we sat inside it really started to pour when all of a sudden a large bolt of lightning came down and hit the ground right in the middle of the campsite where we would have been setting up. It left a burn mark about 12″ wide and a couple inches deep. Even being 50 yards away the sound was deafening and the concussion blast strong enough to knock some scouts down. God was looking out for us that day… We did NOT complain that our equipment wasn’t there when it should have been.

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