What to do in a lightning storm: tips for staying safe - and what are your chances of being struck by lightning?

A nine-year-old boy has died after being struck by lightning in Blackpool
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A nine-year-old boy has died after being struck by lightning while playing on a football field during a storm.

The incident has shocked many across the nation, and drawn attention to the importance of staying safe during thunder and lightning.

What are the dangers of a thunderstorm?

The Met office has tips for staying safe in a storm.The Met office has tips for staying safe in a storm.
The Met office has tips for staying safe in a storm.

Lightning can create power surges in your home if it strikes, so before a storm you should unplug non-essential appliances if you’re not already using a surge protector.

Stormy weather conditions can also be very unsafe for driving, while if you are outside, there is a risk you could be struck by lightning.

Being struck could cause death or severe burns, so you should take every precaution to avoid inadvertently attracting lightning with something like a metal object.

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What should I do if a thunderstorm is about to start?

If a thunderstorm is oncoming, the Met Office recommends seeking shelter as soon as possible:

“Seek shelter if possible. When you hear thunder you are already within range of where the next ground flash may occur, lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the centre of a storm”, they say.

What should I do during a thunderstorm?

If you are at home, you should avoid using a landline phone unless it is an emergency, as landlines can conduct electricity.

If you’re outside you should avoid any activities like rod fishing, boating on a lake or golf, and be aware of metal objects which could conduct or attract lightning like umbrellas, bicycles, wheelchairs, pushchairs and rails.

If you’re camping you should try to stay away from the metal poles in your tent.

The Met office gives advice for if you find yourself out in an exposed location, saying:

“If you find yourself in an exposed location it may be advisable to squat close to the ground, with hands on knees and with head tucked between them.

“Try to touch as little of the ground with your body as possible, do not lie down on the ground

If you feel your hair stand on end, drop to the above position immediately”.

What should I do if I’m driving in a thunderstorm?

It’s advisable to wind the windows up and stay in your car if a lightning storm begins - as in the vast majority of cars with a metal roof and flame, a lightning bolt will go through the car, around the passengers and onto the ground.

Any car with a fabric roof like a convertible may be at risk as the roof could catch fire if struck by lightning.

Lightning may also be able to pass through parts of modern cars like radio and GPS systems, as well as possibly travelling through foot pedals and steering wheels.

If the weather is severe, you should leave the road and park up somewhere safe until it has passed.

If you continue to drive, you should give vulnerable users like cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists more room than normal as side winds could blow them into the road.

You should also keep your speed well down for safety.

How likely are you to be struck by lightning?

Different sources give different probabilities.

David Hand’s book The Improbability Principle suggests it is 300,000/1. However, the BMJ have suggested that it is actually far less likely and it is a 10,000,000/1 shot that you will be struck by lightning.