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Don’t Get Caught in a Thunderstorm: 9 Ways to Stay Safe and Dry

You never know when a thunderstorm will hit, so being prepared at all times is key.

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Check the forecast constantly

While this may seem like a no brainer, it’s easy to leave your house without checking the weather, especially when you’re in a rush. The weather is very unpredictable—and that goes double for summer thunderstorms—but you can minimize your chances of every being caught without the proper gear by taking two minutes to check your local forecast before heading out the door. Everyone has their favorite weather app and website, but you can’t go wrong going straight to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist, at the National Weather Service, NOAA, says they have people updating the forecast 24/7.

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“When thunder roars, go indoors”

Making sure your whole family understands the dangers of a thunderstorm is very important, which is why NOAA’s main slogan is, “when thunder roars, go indoors.” According to Jensenius, thunder is a tell-tale sign that lightning is on its way. “Thunder should serve as an immediate warning that a thunderstorm is close enough to strike,” he says. Lightning actually causes thunder by heating the air and causing a shock wave which becomes a sound wave, aka the rolling rumbling of thunder. (Here are 10 more weird facts about lightning strikes.) If you can’t remember anything else about this article, “when thunder roars, go indoors,” would definitely be the most important.

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Keep your eyes up

Did you know that you can even predict the weather by a quick glance at the clouds? Cumulonimbus clouds are most often associated with thunderstorms, and are the dense, heavy, grayish, clouds, so keep an eye out for those bad boys. Looks can be deceiving though. Just because the sky overhead may be sunny and clear doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe. If you hear thunder or see lightning, do yourself a favor and go inside. Lightning can strike ahead of and behind the storm, so a clear sky does not mean you’re in the clear. “If you’re outside and the sky starts to look threatening, head to safety,” he says.

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Stay away from metals

You don’t need to hide in your basement if it’s just a thunderstorm (that’s only for tornadoes), but you should avoid touching doorknobs and wall plugs, as this can be a catalyst for lightning. Once indoors, you’re pretty much considered safe and can resume normal indoor activities, like reading a book or watching a movie, but you should stay away from doing the dishes or showering because again, you’re increasing your (already very small) chances of getting struck my lightning. “When you’re inside, avoid contact with anything that is plugged into an electrical outlet, don’t touch any plumbing, and don’t talk on a corded phone,” says Jensenius. “Lightning doesn’t follow rules—it basically strikes where it wants to.”

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Wait 30 minutes for the storm to pass

Since the weather can trick you, as a general rule, it’s best to wait at least 30 minutes before going back outside after a thunderstorm. Of course there are always exceptions, but the storm should have passed by this time, and according to Jensenius, it’s considered “very safe” to resume normal outdoor activities at this point. “After a thunderstorm, wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before going back outside,” he says. However, if the sky starts to darken and clouds begin to form overhead, or if you hear thunder and/or see lightning, you need to go back inside pronto. And don’t let a rainy day bring you down, here are five reasons to feel optimistic when you’re stuck indoors.

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Have an emergency weather kit

You don’t want to be stuck in a storm, have the power go out, and be without basic necessities. Keep a weather survival kit on-hand and easily accessible. You can purchase a survival kit at most local grocery stores, pharmacies, and sporting good shops, however, you can always make your own too. Make sure you have enough food and water to last at least three days, and basic medical supplies, like bandages, rubbing alcohol, and antibiotic ointment. If you want to be extra on top of it, you can even have one emergency weather kit in your house and another in the car…there’s no such thing as being too prepared!

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Always plan ahead

If you’re going outside or leaving the house and a storm is coming, make sure you have a safety plan. This plan should include everything from where you’d go if you couldn’t make it home in time to the actions you’d take should you find yourself stuck in your car. While this may seem extreme, you don’t want to find yourself in the midst of a severe thunderstorm and unsure of what to do. “If your children are involved in organized outdoor recreational activities, make sure the organization has a lightning safety plan,” recommends Jensenius. Know before you go.

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Find an open space if stuck outside

If you absolutely can’t find an indoor shelter and you’re stranded outside, say in the mountains on a hike, try to find an open space away from trees and forgery. “If you are caught outside, avoid open areas or tall or isolated trees that could increase your chances of being struck,” advises Jensenius. If possible, call a friend or family member and tell them you need help, and alert a park ranger.

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Know what to do if someone is struck by lightning

A family member, or friend was just struck by lightning (the odds are nearly 1 in 12,000)…Now what? First things first, don’t panic. It’s extremely important to stay calm in situations like this. Try to decipher the size of the shock. Did they feel a massive jolt of electricity course through their entire body? Or was it more of a smaller shock? If the person is unresponsive, check for a pulse and start CPR immediately. Regardless of the size of the shock, Jensenius recommends seeking medical attention ASAP because a doctor will be able to properly diagnose you and make sure your heart rhythm is okay.