Beware the dangers of summer storms

Summer is a time for outdoor fun and backyard barbecues, but it’s also when most thunderstorms occur, so it’s important to know how to stay safe. Every year in Canada, lightning kills about 10 people and injures more than 100 others, yet people often underestimate the dangers.

Lightning never strikes twice, right? That’s a popular misconception: lightning can strike repeatedly and, in fact, it hits the CN Tower an average 75 times a year! Watch this Lightning Safety video from Environment Canada for other common myths.

If you can hear a thunder clap, that means you’re within striking distance of lightning. Protect yourself and your family from the risks of thunderstorms – such as electrocution, burns and cardiac arrest – with these six simple tips.


1. Be forewarned

Forewarned is forearmed. There’s a wealth of weather information available, whether you get it from your trusty radio or an app on your phone. Environment Canada maintains a Lightning Danger Map and regularly issues severe weather warnings. Before venturing for a day trip or a long drive, check the forecast and adjust as needed. You can also sign up for Hydro One's outage alerts and check our Storm Centre map to track the weather in your area.


2. Move to low ground

If you're caught outside in a thunderstorm, avoid water, high ground and tall structures. Get into a vehicle if possible, but avoid soft-top convertibles and open vehicles like golf carts. Steer clear of vertical objects like isolated trees, power lines and poles, and never be the highest point in an open area. Move to a low-lying area, like a valley, and crouch down with your feet together. Minimize contact between yourself and the ground, and never lie down. Talk to your kids about electrical hazards, what to do in a storm, and tips to ensure a safe summer.


3. Get inside

The best place to be during a lightning storm is inside, so seek shelter in a well-constructed, enclosed building. Stay away from windows, doors and skylights, because strong winds and hailstones can shatter glass. Gather in a safe area, like the centre of a ground-floor room or basement, and avoid contact with metal and water. Finally, know the 30-30 rule: if lightning is followed by thunder in under 30 seconds, stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble. 


4. Avoid metal

Once inside, stay away from appliances, electronic equipment and anything made of metal, which can conduct electricity. Even metal jewelry and electronic devices on your body are hazards – they can cause contact burns or other injury. Don't use laptops and landline telephones, and opt for wireless phones and battery-operated electronics. Metallic wires and pipes, such as plumbing stacks, can also serve as a path for electricity. If a thunderstorm is expected, unplug TVs, radios and other electronics ahead of time. 


5. Avoid water

Water and electricity don't mix: never shower, bathe, wash dishes or do laundry during an electrical storm. Unless it's distilled or deionized, water has a slight electrical charge and can conduct electricity, even if a lightning strike occurs outside your home. Because water is an excellent conductor of electricity, the more you reduce your exposure to it, the more you lower your risk. 


6. Beware of power surges

Thunderstorms can cause power to surge through the grid, knocking out electricity and damaging circuits – even if lightning strikes several kilometres away. The build-up of electrical charge can cause strange things to happen. Even if electricity returns immediately, the heat generated by a spike in voltage can overload your wiring and damage your electrical components over time. People who use landlines during a thunderstorm – an absolute no-no – often hear a “pop” on the line, which is essentially an electromagnetic shock wave.

To safeguard your home electronics, install surge protectors, which are designed to protect against sudden spikes in voltage. Look for surge protectors (also known as surge suppressors) that quantify the protection they offer in the amount of joules – the more, the better.

One final word: make thunderstorms part of your family’s emergency preparedness plan, so that you’ve identified your greatest risks and decided on the safest area in your home during a thunderstorm – and remember, “when thunder roars, go indoors!”