Being Weather Aware: Lightning Myths And Facts

Lightning storm in Colorado Springs, July 2014

Though the current monsoon season has brought much-needed rain to Colorado, it's also brought a lot of lightning.

The storms tend to occur most frequently in the afternoon, exactly when the highest number of people are outside enjoying summer activities. Being caught off guard has proved lethal: two people have been killed this summer and several have been injured by lightning strikes.

A number of homes have also been struck by lightning.

There's a lot of misinformation floating around about how lightning behaves and what people should do to stay safe if they're ever caught out in it.

One of the most prevalent is the notion that you're at more of a risk if you are the tallest thing out there, so you should be near something taller. This leads people to seek shelter under trees. The National Weather Service says you're at a higher risk of getting struck by lightning if you're near tall objects--and being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.

If in a forest and surrounded by trees, however, the NWS says to stay near a lower stand of trees.

Another myth is that people are safe from lightning if the skies are clear in their area, even if there is a storm in the area. The NWS says lightning strikes can occur within several miles from the center of the storm.

"If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, and a lot of people may not think that, if it's sunny where they are and the storm's rumbling off in the distance," 11 News Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe says.

Many people also believe they should lie flat on the ground if trapped outside during a storm. Lying on the ground, however, actually increases the chance of a person being injured or killed by ground currents. If a person is trapped outside, he or she should crouch to get low, but not lie flat on the ground.

One of the most prevalent pieces of misinformation out there doesn't involve being outside; it involves being out on the road during a storm. There's a common belief that people are always safe from lightning in their vehicles. But that's not always true, as one driver learned this summer when her car was struck by lightning on Highway 115. She suffered non-life threatening injuries in the incident, though it was not made clear if the injuries were lightning-related. The NWS says that vehicles are typically safe from lightning, but again, it's not 100 percent and they aren't as safe as being in a building.

And even in a building, people should still avoid being near windows; Bledsoe says lightning came shoot through them.

Bledsoe says lightning by its very nature is unpredictable.

"These bolts of lightning... not a whole lot of rules for lightning. They can come shooting sideways out of a cloud, can extend several miles away from a cloud, and if you can hear the thunder, you're close enough to be struck.

"Especially during monsoon season, that we're in right now, these thunderstorm get electrified, they get electrified very quickly and it's nothing to mess with."