Lightning Strikes & Safety Tips

Lightning Danger: Mather Point | Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park, Mike Quinn

When the weather forecast calls for thundershowers or thunderstorms, take it seriously. It means that lightning is possible. Lightning kills 125 people on the average each year in the United States and injures over 500—and those are just incidents that are actually reported! This makes it one of the most dangerous weather events in terms of lives lost.

During 1997-2000, lightning struck somewhere in Grand Canyon National Park 104,294 times, averaging 26,073 strikes per year! The park has published an excellent document on Lightning Danger. (PDF – 189kb Free Adobe Reader required)

This excellent information was gathered from the Consumers Energy web site.

  • If you’re boating or swimming, get to land, get off the beach and find shelter immediately. Stay away from rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity and nearby lightning strikes often travel through it.
  • Whenever possible, take shelter in substantial, permanent, enclosed structures, such as reinforced buildings. Avoid unprotected gazebos, rain or picnic shelters, baseball dugouts and bleachers; these structures are often isolated and located in otherwise open areas, making them a target for lightning. Also, they’re generally poorly anchored and can easily be uprooted and blown over by strong thunderstorm winds. Lastly, these structures offer little protection from large hail.
  • If there are no reinforced buildings in sight, take shelter in a car, truck or other hard-topped vehicle. Keep the windows closed. Although rubber tires provide no protection from lightning, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle does increase protection if you are not touching metal. If lightning does strike your car, you may be injured but you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • If you are in the woods, find an area protected by a low clump of trees. Never stand under a large tree in the open. Be aware of possible flooding in low-lying areas.
  • As a last resort, if no shelter is available, go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles or other tall objects. Pick a place that is not subject to flooding. Have as little contact with the ground as possible; make yourself the smallest target possible. Squat low to the ground, and cover your head. Do not lie flat, as this makes you a larger target.
  • Avoid tall structures, such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines and power lines. Lightning strikes the tallest object in an area.
  • If you are isolated in a level field and feel your hair stand on end (an indication lightning is about to strike), immediately make yourself the smallest target possible. Drop to your knees and bend forward, putting your hands on your knees. Or crouch on the balls of your feet. Do not lie flat on the ground.

There is a myth that lightning is attracted to metal; it is not. However, metal does conduct electricity better than other materials, so it is not a good idea to be holding onto something made of metal—especially if that item tends to be taller than you. As mentioned earlier, lightning IS attracted to the tallest object in the area. So if you are holding onto a tall metal object, that object can then become a lightning rod and conduct the electricity to YOU! Lightning rods are specifically made of metal and taller than anything in the surrounding area. This allows them to be the target of any lightning which directs the electricity into the ground and out of danger’s way.

What To Do If Someone Is Struck By Lightning

  • Call for help. Medical attention is needed as quickly as possible. Get someone to call 911 or your local Emergency Medical Service (EMS).
    If you are in the Inner Canyon along one of the major Corridor trails (Bright Angel, South Kaibab and North Kaibab), have someone call on one of the emergency phones as soon as possible. You can find a table showing the locations of the emergency phones on The Corridor Trails page. Picking up the receiver will immediately connect you to the 911 dispatcher.
  • Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped, a person trained in CPR should begin giving it. If the injured person has a pulse and is breathing, look and care for other possible injuries.
  • Check for burns. The injured person has been shocked and may be burned in two places: where they were struck and where the electricity left their body. Being struck by lightning can also cause nervous system damage, broken bones and loss of hearing or eyesight.

Important: People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be helped without fear of being shocked.