LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The third full week of June is observed as the U.S. Lightning Safety Awareness Week.  This year the week runs from June 19 to June 25. 

According to the National Weather Service, in the last 30 years, lightning has been the third deadliest thunderstorm hazard behind flash flooding and tornadoes. Lightning fatalities also peak during the summer, with the deadliest month being July. 

Arkansas ranks in the top 10 for overall lightning activity and lightning related deaths in the last 63 years. Since 1959, there have been 128 lightning related deaths. The natural state usually sees around 800,000 lightning strikes a year. 

Bar graph of fatal lightning incidents by month from 2006-2021.

Outdoor related jobs and water activates are some of the top causes of lightning-related deaths. Farming and ranching account for a fourth of lightning related work deaths, and water related activities account for a third of lightning related leisure deaths.

Graphic of lightning related deaths in both leisure and work settings.

The best thing to remember is when thunder roars, go indoors. The safest place to be during a lightning storm is always indoors.

If you can’t get indoors, there are things you can do to try and stay safe. If you’re caught outside and can’t get inside, try and avoid open areas. Also, try to avoid tall and isolated objects like trees, towers, and utility poles.

Lightning safety tips

If you’re in a group, it is always best to spread out. While this does increase the likelihood that someone could be struck by lightning, it helps prevent multiple casualties and increases the chance that someone who wasn’t struck can go help a person struck.

Best places to be during a lightning storm

While being inside is the safest place you can be during a thunderstorm, lightning can still enter a structure through a direct strike, wires and pipes that connect outside of the structure, and through the ground. 

When inside, it’s best to avoid windows, doorways, and plumbing, like taking a shower and washing dishes. Plugged in appliances and electrical equipment should also be avoided when lightning is present. 

Anatomy of a lightning strike

A lightning strike occurs very quickly. The whole process of a strike occurs in less than a second.

For a lightning strike to form, first an electron must zig zag downward. This is referred to as a stepped leader. As the leader gets closer to the ground, it draws upward a positive charge.

When the positive and negative charge meet, an electrical current flows, and what we see is the return stroke. This lightning strike is very fast, traveling at around 60,000 miles a second.

Different types of lightning strikes

There are several different types of lightning strikes. The most common kinds of lightning strikes are intracloud, meaning a strike that happens only within the cloud itself, and cloud to ground.

Cloud to sky lightning happens on occasions, with cloud to ground (positive) and cloud to cloud being fairly uncommon. Positive cloud to ground lightning is usually brighter and the thunder associated with these strikes is much louder.

Ground to cloud lightning is the most rare lightning. This type of lightning usually occurs on skyscrapers and tall towers.

Lightning safety takeaways graphic

Overall, the best thing to do when you hear thunder is go inside. A structure is the best place you can be during a thunderstorm. If you can’t find a structure, head to a car or a building with a hard top roof.

When the thunderstorm ends, make sure to stay inside at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.