Lightning is a charge of electricity that goes between clouds or from clouds to the ground. The reason for this is because the rising and falling air in a thunderstorm separates the positive and negative charges. Water and ice also cause the positive and negative charges to separate. Lightning occurs when electrical energy between the positive and negative areas builds up and flows.
Cloud to ground strikes have a voltage between 100 million to 1 billion volts. Lightning can reach temperatures of 50,000º Fahrenheit. Our sun only averages 11,000º Fahrenheit. Lightning channels range from .5 to 1 inch in diameter. Strikes of lightning from the clouds to the ground may run from 2 to 10 miles. There are 100 flashes of lightning per second on earth. This is the reason knowing what to do during a lightning storm is so very important.
The best safety procedure is plan ahead. Before going on an outdoor outing check the weather forecast. If hiking assign a person to look at the clouds. Other hikers could listen for thunder, watch for areas that would provide shelter, or decide if you should continue hiking or return back to shelter.
The safest place to be during a lightning storm is inside. Buildings such as outhouses, lean-to shelters or other small non-metal buildings do not give enough protection.Go inside a house, school, or other building. Cars are better than being outside. The lightning current can flow through the metal frame of a car so if you are caught in a lightning storm while inside your car do not touch the exposed metal. While inside do not use the telephone. A cordless phone may be used during a lightning storm. Also do not use electrical appliances. Stay away from showers, sinks, or anything where you are in contact with water. If lightning strikes a building the electrical current will flow through the electrical wiring or the water pipes. A shock from this current may be deadly.
If outside stay away from tall objects such as trees, flagpoles, or posts. Avoid large open areas such as ball fields or parking lots. Thick forest are safer than a few trees because the chance that lightning will strike the tree next to you is not as great. Also avoid areas near lakes, ponds, railroad tracks, and fences.