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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
What to do in a thunderstorm?

The Magazine answers...

Thunderbolts and lightning can be very frightening, but how best to stay safe when a storm breaks? The recent hot weather has led to thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are short, sharp and shocking - for some literally. For if you can hear the clouds rumbling, chances are the storm is close enough to for you to be struck by lightning - it can strike up to 10 miles away from the centre of a storm.

Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder - if it's less than 30 seconds, there's a threat.

If thunderstorms are forecast, postpone or cancel outdoor activities - especially golf and rod fishing. If a storm is approaching, take cover inside or in a car with the windows wound up - sheds, isolated trees and convertibles do not afford sufficient protection.

In water and with an umbrella
What not to do
Boaters and swimmers should get to shore as quickly as possible, as water conducts electricity. So too do metal pipes and phone lines. Only make calls in an emergency, and best put off baths, showers and dish washing, in case lightning strikes the house and sends a jolt of electricity through the metal plumbing.

The Met Office also advises unplugging appliances, as lightning can cause power surges. If the lights go out, use a torch, rather than the naked flame of a candle. For this would pose quite a nasty fire risk.

Stay low

If caught outside in a thunderstorm, find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. If your skin tingles and hair stands on end, lightning is about to strike. Crouch down, balancing on the balls of your feet, placing hands on knees with head between them. This makes you into the smallest target possible, and minimises contact with the ground.

Question mark
A feature to the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
Do not put up an umbrella or use a mobile phone - the metal directs the current into the body. The British Medical Journal last month illustrated the dangers with the case of a 15-year-old struck while using her mobile - she suffered a cardiac arrest, burst eardrum and a year on she has to use a wheelchair.

If someone has been hit by lightning, call for help as they'll need urgent medical attention. It's safe to touch them - people struck by lightning carry no electrical charge that can shock other people.

Check for a pulse and for breathing - if you know first aid, begin artificial respiration and CPR if necessary. If they're breathing, check for other possible injuries. Lightning strike victims have burns in two places - where the electric shock entered and then left the body, usually the soles of the feet. They may have broken bones or loss of hearing or sight.

Be wary of venturing out too soon - the BBC Weather Centre advises waiting 30 minutes after the last flash, as over half of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed.

While the forecast storms will bring much-needed rain to the parched South-East, the sudden dump of water poses the risk of flash flooding. If waters start to rise, head for higher ground. Don't try to drive to safety, as most flash flood deaths occur in vehicles.

And one final tip - it's a myth that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Now be careful out there.

Add your comments using the form below

You forgot a bit of advice. Really clever scientists are able to fly kites during thunderstorms without coming to any harm. Ordinary people should not though.
John Airey, Peterborough, UK

What are the odds of being struck by lightning compared to winning the lottery. OK, don't climb the nearest church steeple with an umbrella, but the rest? We are so risk averse, let's live a little.
David, Quorn

The number of people I counted on the way to work carrying large golf umbrellas (with a big metal spike on the top) is pretty disturbing!
Angelique, London

Fantastic advice. I've been struck twice and now do not venture out when there is a storm brewing. I work in the forestry commission and have seem some very nasty strikes. I must admit I never felt a tingle or my hair stand up before the strike. That's just poppycock.
Barney Mo, UK

I lived in two different houses in the last ten years and had my TV aerials stuck by lightning and blow up the TV equipment. The storms are amazing but very dangerous.
Paul, Basildon, Essex

Why not enjoy the experience? Tune a radio to an empty section in the AM band, and listen to the electromagnetic disturbances. You will hear a lot more going on than you can actually see in terms of lightning strikes. Don't worry your radio won't get struck unless you are very, very unlucky.
Al Jackson, Bristol

As the author Terry Pratchett once put it, "not a time to play golf wearing copper trousers and shouting all gods are bastards".
Stewart Shaw, Sheffield

Thanks for the advice! I feel quite silly now as it didn't dawn on me that the sea would be a very dangerous place to be in an electrical storm! A bit like holding a plugged in toaster over the bath you're in and gambling to see if you drop it ...!
Rebecca, Wakefield UK

In Germany, every building has to have a lightning conductor (Blitzableiter). I've hardly seen it here in the UK.
Holger, Bristol, UK

Anxiety, anxiety -- risk of lightening - risk of over heating in the sun -- what has happened to common sense ???? I suppose the experts would then be out of work.
Brian Kneller, Haxey - UK

Very enlightening advice!
Mohamed, Leicester

So don't use a mobile in a storm eh?. So this lightning has come the best part of a mile in order to locate your phone?. Really|?.
tony sayer, Cambridge

We get some huge thunderstorms in Colorado. A couple of weeks ago, a guy on a motorcycle was hit by lightning on a major highway near Denver. I was on a bus at the time just behind it. I heard the thunder at the same time as the lightning struck, and a couple of seconds later all the traffic stopped due to the accident. The poor guy was clearly dead, and the lightning had blown a 4 inch deep hole in the road, damaging some cars with debris. Nasty.
Steve, Denver, Colorado

Never mess with lightning. I was at school in a part of South Africa where we had a lot of electrical storms. Two lads were sheltering from rain under a cluster of trees when lightning stuck they tree they were under. It split the tree in two and the two lads were tragically killed. Some other useful advice: avoid large puddles of water (if it has been raining). Also, avoid being near metal fence posts or barbed wire fences when out walking walking. Every year in SA, farmers in high ground strike areas have stock losses due to animals herding next to fences during thunder storms. I would also re-iterate the advice about unplugging electrical devices (esp. TV's phones and computers) - we lost a TV and a telephone in Johannesburg due to lightning strikes1
Graeme, London

I am terrified of thunder and lightening. You mentioned to stay indoors or in a car. Is it true the safest place is in your car & would you be affected if lightening struck the car you are in?
debbie, manchester

"The Met Office also advises unplugging appliances, as lightning can cause power surges. If the lights go out, use a torch, rather than the naked flame of a candle. For this would pose quite a nasty fire risk." Thank you, Nanny.
D Clark, Wolverhampton

"she suffered a cardiac arrest, burst eardrum and a year on she has to use a wheelchair." So, to her as to many of the rest of us physically disabled folks, next time there's a thunderstorm we'll be surrounded by metal, unable to move very fast, and as for crouching on the ground, head between knees, balancing on the balls of our feet... oh well.
Mary, Midlands, UK

I buy standing in open space holding long metal objects as a piece of sensible advice on what not to do in a storm - but has there ever been a recorded incident of someone being electrocuted by their dish water? It is probably more likely that you would accidentally slip, knock yourself unconscious and die by drowning head first in the sink
A REgan, London

I was once struck by lightning and physically glowed for 3 minutes. Since then I have developed a fear of lightning. But not thunder!!! Is this normal?
John Petticoat, Brighton

In response to Barney from the UK, I have particularly long hair, and although I've never felt a tingle, my hair has indeed started to rise when outside during a thunderstorm. It might not be common, but it does happen!
David Glover, Oxford, UK

I was struck when I was a teenager returning home from school - I was carrying an umbrella. I don't recall the actual strike, but my sister says that I ran really fast across the road and back again. I had a black top lip and a burn where I was holding the umbrella. Weird - there was no pain and I carried on walking home! (in tears - must have been a shock!- no pun intended). We laugh about it now - but at the time it was really scary!
Karen, Chester

I often read the Scandinavian newspapers on-line. Last year I read an article about a girl in Denmark who was struck badly by lightning because she had a ring ornament attached to her nose!!
philippa despard, Rome, Italy

I noted with interest the warning about rods. A few years ago when I was on holiday at the coast I saw an ambulance rushing to the aid a local fisherman who had been struck and killed by lightning. The carbon fibre rod in his hand served as a conductor that contributed to his death.
S Harrap, Peterborough

Do we need all this advice from the nanny state , after all it is only common sense and most people do take precautions ,
Martin, Wales

the metal does not cause the charge to go into the body, in reality it does the opposite. Also the rubber sneakers do nothing to protect you.
michael utley, west yarmouth, ma, usa

A car is a very safe place to ride out (as it were) an electrical storm, as long as all four wheels remain on solid ground. And we always unplug both computer and telephone, having blown up modem and motherboard in two separate incidents.
Carol, Portugal

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