What to do if caught in a thunderstorm

As the hot days roll in, the risk of heavy thunderstorms also grows. If you are stuck outdoors when a storm hits here are some basic tips to help keep you safe.

Although no place outside is safe during a thunderstorm, you can minimize your risk by assessing the lightning threat early and taking appropriate actions. The best defense is to avoid lightning. The Meteo Swiss app sends out extreme weather warnings amongst other, as well as an animation map with the most probable storm trajectory. Just remember to frequently refresh this as it can change rapidly.

Here are some outdoor safety tips.

  • Be aware.
    Check the weather forecast before participating in outdoor activities. If the forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity, or make sure suitable safe shelter is readily available.
  • Go indoors.
    Remember the phrase, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” Find a safe, enclosed shelter when you hear thunder. Safe shelters include homes, offices, shopping centers, and hard-top vehicles with the windows rolled up.
  • Seek shelter immediately, even if caught out in the open.
    If you are caught in an open area, act quickly to find shelter. The most important action is to remove yourself from danger. Crouching or getting low to the ground can reduce your chances of being struck, but it does not remove you from danger. If you can go into a ditch but be aware of flash floodings.
  • If you are caught outside with no safe shelter nearby, the following actions might reduce your risk of being struck by lightning:
    • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
    • Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears so that you are down low with minimal contact with the ground.
    • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
    • If you are in a forest, shelter near lower trees and watch out for falling branches or other debris.
    • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
    • Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
    • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (such as barbed wire fences, power lines, or windmills).
  • Separate from others.
    If you are in a group during a thunderstorm, separate from each other. This will reduce the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground.
  • If you are out in the open water and a storm rolls in, return to shore immediately.
    If you are on a boat in open water when a thunderstorm rolls in, return to shore immediately and seek shelter. If you are unable to return to shore, boats with cabins offer some protection. If caught in a storm in a small boat with no cabin, drop anchor and get as low as possible.
  • Don’t stay in open vehicles.
    During a thunderstorm, avoid open vehicles such as convertibles, motorcycles, and golf carts.
  • Don’t stay in open structures.
    Avoid open structures such as porches, gazebos, baseball dugouts, and sports arenas. These structures won’t protect you from lightning.
  • Avoid open spaces.
    Stay away from open spaces such as golf courses, parks, playgrounds, ponds, lakes, swimming pools, and beaches. Seek shelter immediately.
  • Don’t stay near tall structures.
    Stay away from tall structures, such as telephone poles and trees; lightning tends to strike the tallest object around.

Prepare your home.

  • In case of a severe storm warning, put away whatever can fly off from your balcony/terrace or garden.
  • Roll in the outdoor blinds and/or sun shades.
  • Roll up your metal shutters. Hail will cause indentations in them which your landlord may want compensation for.
  • Make sure windows and doors are properly closed.
  • In preparation you should also check that your gutters are clear of debris so that the rain can go through easily.

Remember that these storms are overrelatively quickly but they often pack quite a punch of lightning, rain, hail and wind.


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