What to do in a storm?

How far away is the storm?

You can estimate the distance of the storm by counting the number of seconds between lightning and thunder, and dividing this number by three. As such, 3 seconds correspond to 1 km, 6 seconds to 2 km etc.

Am I in danger?

According to a rough rule-of-thumb, you are in acute danger if the thunder can be heard less than 30 seconds after the lightning. This corresponds to a distance of approximately 10 km. Severe storm fronts are, however, able to move at speeds of up to 130 km/h so that, at a distance of 10 km, you have less than 5 minutes to get to safety. Hence, leave unsafe areas as soon as you hear thunder. However, only this app or comparable systems are able to provide you with reliable information on the storm situation.

 

When is the danger over?

The rule-of-thumb here is: When thunder can no longer be heard for at least 30 minutes, the storm has passed and there is no more danger. However, only this app or comparable systems are able to provide you with reliable information on the storm situation.

Basic rules of conduct in storms

In general

  • Look for protected areas without delay! Protected areas are buildings, cars (for convertibles, only if the roof is closed of course), railway carriages etc.

  • No protection is offered by: wooden huts, tents, fields, large spaces

  • Cell phones may be used without danger

  • Should you find yourself in a storm, also stay away from larger – in particular grounded – metallic objects.

  • Park your bicycle or motorcycle a few meters away from yourself. Lay aside golf clubs, trekking poles or similar objects.

  • To be avoided at all costs: mountain-tops, hills, raised hunting stands, lookout towers, scattered trees or forest edges. In the mountains, you should never touch wire ropes, wet climbing ropes and iron ladders. You should also not lie on the ground or lean against rock faces. Also avoid standing close to one another in a group or touching people or animals at all costs.
     

Outdoors

  • Immediately leave the water, elevated places, free spaces. In particular golf courses, soccer fields, lakes, mountain-tops, hills or plateaus are considered extremely dangerous.

  • Move to hollow spaces, and make yourself small. Do not lie flat on the ground, but assume a crouching position.

  • Keep your feet close to each other.

  • Leave wet ground and move to asphalt.
  • Keep a distance of at least 3 meters to metallic masts or fences as well as people.

  • Masts or buildings afford protection within a surrounding area of approximately the height of the object. But keep a distance of at least 3 meters to the object at all costs.

  • Forget the old German saying, "Avoid the oak and seek the beech ". Statistically speaking, lightning strikes oak trees as often as every other tree.
     

If lightning strikes a person

A lightning strike mostly causes severe burns. Paralysis, respiratory arrest, brain damage and impaired consciousness may also occur. Immediate first aid can prove to be life-saving. Until medical help arrives, first-aiders can take care of the injured person without endangering themselves. They are not at risk as the lightning current escapes from the body after two seconds at most.Injuries caused by lightning are incurred most often at the beginning or end of a storm. This is simply due to the fact that most people look for protection during a storm. Lightning strokes can bridge distances of up to 20 km. These lightning strokes "out of the blue" may occur before you hear a storm and notice the clouds.

 

In buildings without lightning protection

  • Do not touch wires or pipes which lead into the building from the outside.

  • Do not take a bath or have a shower.

  • Do not use any landline telephones.

  • In order to protect your appliances, you should remove the plugs from the sockets.
     

Special tips for outdoor sports

In the mountains

When it comes to thunderstorms, particular caution is called for in the mountains. On the one hand, the development of a storm can be detected only on a very short-term basis; on the other, it is often difficult to quickly find an appropriate shelter. Please get to safety without delay as soon as you realize that a storm is brewing. In addition to huts with lightning protection, you are safest in caves, under cliff ledges and at the foot of rock faces. Keep a distance of at least 3 meters from the rock faces.
 

On golf courses and soccer fields

  • On extensive golf courses and soccer fields, you are exposed to a storm without protection. In addition, individual clusters of trees are especially at risk of being hit by lightning. It’s imperative that you get to safety as soon as a storm gathers. If you are unable to get to safety in good time, look for the next lowest point or a mast, and crouch on the ground. Keep a distance of at least 3 meters to a mast or a wall, 10 meters to a tree and its branches.

  • In stadiums, the spectators on the open bleachers are at the greatest risk of being hit by lightning. However, if there is roofing construction made of steel or reinforced concrete, the danger of lightning strikes is considerably reduced.

  • Accidents caused by lightning occur frequently on sports fields – as with other events outdoors -, when people form the “highest” point in the area.

  • The risk is increased by open umbrellas as these protrude from the surrounding area even further. It is hence advisable to lay umbrellas, flags and other similar objects on the ground, and to suspend the game until the storm has passed.
     

When camping

A tent without a tight metal frame does not provide any protection against lightning. As such, you should camp in places which correspond to the general rules of conduct during storms. Crouch in the middle of the tent on ground which is as dry as possible. Disconnect any cables which lead into the tent from the outside.
 

On the water

Leave the water immediately. Bathing, diving, fishing, walking or any other contact with water in a pool, lake or sea is life-threatening, since the lightning current spreads in water over a large area and can cause life-threatening injuries even at distance of a few hundred meters.
You are especially at risk on a boat. Crouch on the floor; keep a distance of at least 3 meters to a mast. At no event should your body protrude over the deck.
 

When horse-riding

Riding can be a dangerous sport during storms. This is not only due to the fact that you are in an elevated position on a horse, but also because the horse is exposed to an extremely large step voltage. Hence, you should dismount for the sake of the horse as well, and look for a safe place for both horse and rider. During a storm, never remain seated on the horse when in open terrain!
 

On the bicycle or motorcycle

Cyclists and motorcyclists should interrupt the journey immediately and look for means of protection. You are safe from direct lightning strikes under bridges made of reinforced concrete or steel. But, a voltage drop (step voltage) can also be expected here. Should no means of protection be available, you should park the bicycle or motorcycle and crouch on the ground with legs your close together at some distance away from the vehicle. At no event should you touch or hold the motorcycle or bicycle with your hands.
 

Interesting facts

How strong is a stroke of lightning?

A stroke of lightning involves extremely strong current of up to 300,000 amperes. As a comparison: You get a maximum of 16 amperes from a normal household socket. On average, lightning strokes which touch the ground feature currents of between 10,000 and 20,000 amperes. Paradoxically, the total amount of energy contained in a stroke of lightning is very low as this strong current flows only for a few fractions of a second.
 

Faraday cage

A place which is completely surrounded by a current-conducting grid construction or surface is known as a Faraday cage. In this manner, a lightning stroke from the outside will definitely be conducted away from this grid. The pre-requisite is that the grid is tight enough. A car, with its metal framework construction, constitutes such a Faraday cage. The same applies to an aeroplane.

Step voltage

Should lightning strike, a strong electro-magnetic field is created. Should you be in the vicinity of the lightning, you will be exposed to this field. This field generates voltage in the body – as with a socket. The larger the expanse of the body, the higher the voltage difference between one end of the body and the other, and the corresponding current flows through the body. As such, cows often die from a lightning stroke a few meters away due to their step width. Avoid taking large steps, standing or lying down; crouch and make yourself as small as possible and keep your feet close together.
 

How far away do I have to be from a stroke of lightning so that nothing happens to me?

The current from strokes of lightning can spread over up to 100 meters via the ground, depending on the strength and humidity.There is a particular risk involved when touching or remaining directly under light and flag masts, which normally have to be equipped with a grounding system, but from which the lightning current may leap under certain circumstances. As such, one should keep a distance of at least 3 meters from such masts. Otherwise, you are relatively safe from lightning if you keep a distance in the surrounding area corresponding to almost the height of the mast.

 

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