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I just moved to a new place (Edmonton, Alberta) and I wasn't really prepared for the strange weather here. My room is really hot right now and I want to sit outside for a bit in the rain where it's cool. But there's a LOT of lightning and http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm says to always get inside in a lightning storm when possible.

What are my actual probabilities of being struck if I sit outside in a lightning storm. Should I really worry about it?

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I wouldn't bother, but I had the same question last night. I don't know how long these alternating hot days followed by 2 AM lightning storms are going to continue. –  dspyz Jul 12 '12 at 8:29
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xkcd.com/795 –  gerrit Jul 14 '12 at 19:27
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1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Here's a lot more advice than you aked for:

Around 24000 people in the entire world are struck by lightning each year. Supposing you live to be 85, that's 2 million people in your lifetime. On 7 billion people alive today, that's a lifetime chance of 1 in 3500 -- your chances are pretty slim anyway :)

But, to be more elaborate: your chances of being struck depend entirely on your surroundings. As you indicated, you're going to be near your house, which is of course much higher than your body height, and thus closer to any lightning cloud, and thus a much more likely target for lightning to strike. Provided you have a lightning rod (or similar) installed, the rod is the most direct way for a bolt to go into the ground, and will therefore considerably decrease your chances of being struck (NOT reduce it to zero though -- lightning is pretty predictable, until it's not).

There are a few caveats here -- if you do not have a lightning rod, your house is all wet from the rain, and you're touching a doorknob or standing near a pillar or something, a bolt may choose to use your body as a "least resistance" path to the ground (although water lines or power lines inside your wall still form a much more likely candidate). When a storm is directly overhead, alway open doors, windows, etc. with your right hand, while standing on your right leg -- this reduces the chances of the current moving through your heart in the (unlikely) event you are struck this way.

Also, if the bolt is conducted into the ground by a rod (or a tree or power line or similar), and you're standing near the point of entry, there may be secondary effects that can harm you (indirect impact). These are on average much less severe than a direct hit, but are known to have been lethal in some cases.

If you're NOT going to be near your house, make sure you're going to stand near tall things (NEAR, not under). Be sure to stay well out of the region where the tall thing might reach you should it be struck, break and fall.

Suppose worst comes to worst: you find yourself in the middle of a severe thunderstorm in an open field. In that case -- if you can find a (few) long stick(s), or have one of those tents supported by fiberglass sticks with you, stick them in the ground, straight up, in a large circular pattern, before the storm is directly overhead. If there is no time, just skip it! Then (in the center of the circle) make yourself as small as you possibly can, while also making as little contact with the ground as possible. That is, crouch down, keep your head low between your knees, standing on the balls of your feet, keep your feet close together, and start praying. Stay that way until the worst of the storm has passed. Don't even look up until you are sure that the average time between lightning and thunder is at least a second.

But the very best thing you can do is of course avoid these situations all together. Inside your house, or a cafeteria, motel, pub, any place inside you can find, is the safest place to be. Inside a car is also perfectly safe due to it being an effective Farraday cage. Really anything you can find, a bus stop, stable, a cave (if you're in the mountains, God forbid), hunter's cabin, anything.

This is what I always got as advice from guides I met on hiking trips. I always stuck to it, but actually, I never verified any of it :) (aside from the odd documentary on TV).

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Great first post, +1! –  berry120 Jul 12 '12 at 11:18
    
Thanks :) :) :) –  Rody Oldenhuis Jul 12 '12 at 11:32
    
My dad would always take us to a mostly open field so we could enjoy the lightening storm better. Of course, these were the wimpy Oregon lightening storms, not like the serious ones you get in the middle of the continent. –  thursdaysgeek Jul 17 '12 at 21:04
    
Being in an open field by itself isn't a guarantee to get struck, but being in an open field on top of a hill holding a long metal rod with the storm overhead kinda improves those chances :p –  Rody Oldenhuis Jul 24 '12 at 9:11
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