How to Keep Kids Safe During Severe Thunderstorms

Lightning Strikes Above Home
Kevin J Salisbury / Getty Images

Kids often get afraid when a thunderstorm rolls in. Thunder and lightning are often on the top of the list of fears for younger children. Because of the damage that severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can cause, many adults have a healthy fear of them too. After all, about 212 people are killed in thunderstorms each year, mostly from lightning and flash flooding.

Thunderstorm Risks

Although many people simply worry about hail damage during thunderstorms, it is important to realize that other, often more deadly risks from thunderstorms, can come from:

  • Driving during blinding rain.
  • Flash flooding, which is most common during slow-moving thunderstorms, and can cause fast-moving water to flow down what used to be dry creek beds or slow-moving creeks or rivers, catching kids in the fast-moving water.
  • Lightning, which can strike as far as 10 miles from an area of rainfall.
  • Strong straight-line winds, which can knock over trees and damage some buildings.
  • Tornadoes, which can damage or destroy all but the most secure buildings.

To get updates before or during a severe thunderstorm warning or severe thunderstorm watch in your area and other severe weather, in addition to watching the news, consider getting a battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio.

Many types are available, from a desktop weather radio that can alert you to severe weather, portable weather radios that can help you monitor the weather when you are on the go and even hand-crank radios with NOAA that you can use when during a power outage and when your batteries are out.

A weather alert radio is especially important since thunderstorms can occur so quickly, and sometimes pop up in the middle of the night when your family is sleeping.

Lightning Risks and Safety Tips

Lightning causes thunder, so if you hear thunder, there is lightning nearby. And since lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from a thunderstorm, it is important to try and figure out how far lightning is far you and your family, instead of simply waiting for it to start raining until you seek shelter.

How do you figure out how far the lightning is? A general rule of thumb is that you can figure out the distance between you and a lightning strike if you count the seconds in between seeing a lightning strike, hearing thunder, and then divide the time by 5. So if you count 10 seconds in between a lightning strike and a thunderclap, then the lightning is only about 2 miles away and you should seek shelter in a car or building.

In general, you should make sure that you can count to at least 30 in between seeing lightning strikes and hearing thunder, which means that the lightning is about 6 miles away. And to be safe, stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after hearing thunder for the last time, which should give the thunderstorm plenty of time to move out of your area.

Other tips to keep safe when lightning is nearby include:

  • Avoid riding on anything metal during a severe thunderstorm with close lightning, such as a bicycle or golf cart.
  • If you can't get inside a safe building or vehicle, seek shelter in a low-lying area that is not prone to flash flooding, squatting low to the ground, and stay away from tall trees or metal poles.
  • Seek emergency medical attention to you see someone hit by lightning and start first aid, including CPR if necessary.
  • Seek shelter in a hard-topped car, truck, or van, etc., if a safe building is not available
  • Seek shelter inside a fully enclosed building that has wiring or plumbing, which would usually not include a shed, open garage, or pavilion.
  • Stay off corded phones and avoid taking a bath or shower, as telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity if your home is struck by lightning.

Although there are now apps on smartphones, like WeatherBug's Spark that can warn you when lightning is near, just remember the old safety slogan, "When thunder roars, go indoors!"

Thunderstorm Safety Tips

Other tips to keep safe during a severe thunderstorm, in addition to the advice on avoiding getting hurt by lightning, include that you:

  • Be prepared to go to your safe room during a tornado watch or severe thunderstorm warning, during which a tornado could strike.
  • Don't watch the thunderstorm. Instead, go inside and stay away from windows, open doors, and your porch. If possible, shutter windows or at least close the window blinds or curtains, in case flying debris hits the window.
  • Have a safe place to go if a tornado is headed toward your home (tornado warning), such as a tornado shelter, basement, center hallway, bathroom, closet, or other room on the lowest room of your home that is near the center of your home and doesn't have any windows.
  • Have a supply kit ready in your safe room that you will go to in severe weather, including a battery-powered weather radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and any medications your kids might need, such as an asthma inhaler.

And be sure to check for downed power lines or other damage after the thunderstorm and before your kids go outside.

What You Need to Know

Other things to know about keeping your kids safe from lightning and severe thunderstorms include that:

  • A portable lightning detector can be a great tool for people who are responsible for organizing sporting events, like spring baseball games, and other outdoor activities during the spring and summer when severe thunderstorms are most likely to occur. The StrikeAlert, by Outdoors Technologies, is an inexpensive portable lightning detector that might be a good option for coaches, campers, and anyone else who is responsible for keeping kids outside during severe thunderstorm season.
  • If your child uses a power-dependent medical device, such as a ventilator, suction machine, or nebulizer for asthma, notify your electric company so that you could be put on a priority list for repairs in case of a power outage during a thunderstorm. Also, arrange for backup power, such as from a portable generator.
  • Never use a portable generator inside your home or garage, since that is a big risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Thunderstorms occur most often during the spring and summer, especially during afternoon and evening.

Would you know if a severe storm or tornado was headed your way? The Red Cross Tornado app can alert you to an approaching severe storm, even if you aren't at home.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carbon Monoxide - Generator Safety Fact Sheet. Updated March 21, 2018.