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Lightning Safety

1Photograph © Thomas Allen/Getty Images


Lightning is the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazard that physically active people face each year. According to our Meteorological Department places like Subang (Selangor), Bayan Lepas (Penang) and Kluang (Johor) have a whopping 180 to 200 “thunderstorm days” (TDs) per year (the number of days that thunder can be heard at the weather monitoring stations there. See graphic Strike force, below)


Source: Malaysian Meteorological Department

Another National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) measurement is that of “lightning density” where Kuala Lumpur is ranked fifth in the world with 48.3 lightning strikes (to the ground) for every square km of real estate. (The other top four lightning density sites are in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.)

Figures from the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) of the United States show far fewer TDs in Japan (35-40), Australia (10-70), most of Europe (15-40) and England (a paltry 5-10). Even Florida, considered the “lightning capital” of the USA, has “only” 90-110 TDs.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of safety tips whenever you see a distant lightning flash.

The first thing to do is to be proactive — do something. You have to get off the cliff because you know you don’t want to be on top of the dome if the storm hits. Follow these 12 tips to avoid being caught in a lightning storm.

  1. Lightning Safety Tips
    Check the weather forecast before you head outside and be aware of any storms in your area or conditions that are right for the development of thunderstorms. Darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing wind may indicate an approaching storm

  1. Flash-to-Bang
    If thunderstorms develop, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder to estimate the distance between you and the lightning strike. Because sound travels at approximately 1 mile in 5 seconds, you can determine how far away the lightning is by using this “flash-to-bang” method. It is recommended that you seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less (6 miles). Once inside shelter, you should not resume activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder. This is known as the 30/30 Lightning Rule. Keep in mind that although uncommon, lightning has been reported to strike up to 10 miles or more from where it is raining. Blue skies overhead do not guarantee protection from lightning strikes. Lightning can strike far from where it is raining.

  1. Find safe shelter.
    Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be during lightning storms. Avoid sheds and picnic shelters. Staying in a car with windows closed also offers some protection.

  1. Avoid isolated trees or other tall objects. It’s better to seek shelter under a thick growth of relatively small trees.

  1. Spread out and do not stay in a group

  1. Never lie flat on the ground during a lightning storm.

  1. Get out of the water. Water is a great conductor of electricity.

  1. Avoid any metal objects such as bicycles and golf clubs, fishing rods, tennis rackets or tools.

  1. If on a bicycle and lightning is within 5 miles, STOP riding, get off of your bicycle, find a ditch or other low spot and sit down.

  1. As a last resort, assume the lightning-safe position
    If you are caught in a lightning storm and if you feel your hair stand on end, your skin tingle, or you hear crackling noises, crouch on the ground with your weight on the balls of the feet, your feet together, your head lowered and ears covered. Some experts recommend placing your hands on your forehead and your elbows on your knees to create a path for lightning to travel to the ground through your extremities rather than through your core (heart).

  1. When there is lightning don’t wait for rain to seek shelter.

First Aid for Lightning Strikes

  1. Call for help.
    Call 999. Get medical attention as quickly as possible.

  1. Assess the situation

    • Check out the situation. Was only one person struck or are there multiple victims?

    • Is the storm still raging? Are you safe when you administer first aid? It’s important not to create more casualities.

    • Be aware of continuing lightning danger to victims and rescuers. Don’t expose yourself, the victims, or rescuers to additional lightning risk.

    • If necessary, move the victim to a safer location before providing first aid.

    • Also consider if the victim was directly struck by lightning or struck by ground currents. Direct strikes are, of course, much more serious.

  1. Give basic first aid. Check for breathing and heartbeat.

    • If the victim has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing.

    • If the heart has stopped breathing, a trained person should give CPR – follow the current Red Cross specs—2 rescue breaths followed by 30 fast chest compressions in 30 seconds.

    • Continue CPR until rescue arrives, although if there is no response after 30 minutes then the chances of survival are slim.

    • If the person has a pulse and is breathing, address any other injuries.

    • The best places to check for a pulse are at the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery behind the knee. Lightning often causes cardiac arrest.

  1. Other Lightning Injuries

    • Besides cardiac and respiratory arrest, check for burns in two places. The injured person has received an electric shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body.

    • Look also for other lightning-caused injuries like shock, brain injury, muscular and skeletal damage, and sometimes blunt trauma including broken bones and ruptured organs. Some victims also experience nervous system disruption with loss of consciousness and amnesia. Treat all these injuries with basic first aid until help arrives. Death by lightning usually results from cardiac arrest. People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and cannot shock other people.


1. Lightning Strikes: How to Lower Your Risk. Michael Cherington, MD; Philip R. Yarnell, MD with James R. Wappes. The Physician and Sports Medicine – VOL 25 – NO. 5 – MAY 97.

Links in this article:

  1. http://firstaid.about.com/od/cpr/ss/abcs.htm

  2. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/

  3. http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/decision_tree_people.html

  4. http://www.lightningsafety.com/

  5. http://climbing.about.com/od/staysafeclimbing/tp/9TipsAvoidLightning.htm

  6. http://0.tqn.com/d/climbing/1/0/3/2/-/-/Lightning_ThomasAllen_2.jpg

Last Reviewed : 23 August 2019
Writer : Datin Dr. Zil Falillah bte. Mohd Said
Accreditor : Dr. Nik Rubiah bte. Nik Abdul Rashid
Reviewer : Dr. Mohamad Hamim b. Mohamad Hanifah