Monsoon 101: Lightning safety

Monsoon 101: Lightning safety
Lightning over Lubbock on June 2, 2019 (Jason Norton/KCBD)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - No place outside is 100 percent safe from lightning during a thunderstorm and we see more than our fair share of strike during monsoon.

However, there are some precautions you can take to minimize your risk.

Plan ahead

The best way to avoid lightning, flash floods and other dangerous conditions is to not put yourself, family or friends in danger in the first place. No one should be caught off guard by thunderstorms. Weather information is all around you. You can:

  • Download the Tucson News Now Weather and News apps from your app store
  • Watch the weather forecast on KOLD News 13
  • Find current weather information at
  • Listen to weather reports on the radio
  • Tune in on your NOAA weather radio
  • Scan the skies 360 degrees around you and overhead

Use The 30/30 Rule

The 30/30 rule can be used by:

  • When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder
  • If this time is 30 seconds or less, quickly seek shelter
  • If a substantial building is not available, a metal-topped vehicle is the next best choice.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after seeing the last lightning or hearing the last thunder before going back outside.

If fewer than 30 seconds elapse between the time you see a flash and hear the thunder, then the flash is less than 6 miles away. Research has shown that the distance between successive flashes can be anywhere from 2-6 miles, which means that you should begin seeking shelter if lightning is less than 6 miles away.

Lightning fatalities and injuries tend to occur more often at the end of a storm than at other times and least often in the middle of storms. At the end of storms, there is often still a risk of lightning even though rain has ended or diminished and the lightning rate is low. You should remain indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last thunder in order to minimize the risk at the end of storms.

Safety Tips

  • If you are caught outside during a storm, find shelter in a nearby building or car. Keep windows closed
  • If no safe shelter is available, squat low to the ground, making yourself as small a target as possible
  • Stay away from trees, poles, or metal objects
  • Stay away from lakes and rivers.
  • Use the 30/30 rule for your own personal safety if a thunderstorm comes up while you are outdoors.
  • The best shelter is a house or substantial building. If you cannot reach a building, a metal-topped car is the next best choice as long as the windows are closed and you are not in contact with the metal frame of the car in any way.
  • Trees must be avoided in thunderstorms. Picnic shelters, covered bus stops, dugouts or partially covered bleachers do not provide protection from lightning strikes.

Interesting Facts

  • The most common locations to be struck by lightning are open fields or under trees.
  • It does not have to be raining for there to be a lightning risk. Lightning flashes do occur outside the rain area in thunderstorms, and especially in southern Arizona, there can be dry thunderstorms that produce lightning with no rain.
  • Lightning activity varies greatly in southern Arizona. In a typical year, about 10 times as many flashes occur in Nogales compared to Phoenix.
  • Near the end of many storms, lightning is often seen crawling across the sky for long distances. These flashes often occur at low rates (one every couple of minutes) and can be spectacular to watch, but they can also produce cloud-to-ground discharges. A good rule is that if these flashes are passing overhead or nearly overhead, the lightning danger still exists and you should remain indoors.
  • Cloud-to-ground flashes may deliver either positive or negative charge to the ground. Negative flashes are most common.
  • About half of negative cloud-to-ground flashes contact the ground in more than one place, with the distance between separate contact points being as great as 5 miles.
  • Positive flashes tend to last longer and start more fires.
  • About 100 people each year are killed by lightning in the U.S. Ten times as many are injured.
  • Lightning typically travels 10 miles or less.
  • Lightning has been documented to travel 60 miles or more, often extending up to 10 miles away from the cloud that formed the lightning.
  • Rubber car tires or rubber soles on shoes do not protect you from lightning. The lightning has traveled greater than 5 miles to reach you; the extra inch of rubber offers no protection. The inside of a car is safer than being outside because the lightning travels around the car's metal frame to the ground.

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