How to Avoid Being Hit By Lightning

Sunday's fatal lightning strike at Venice Beach is a tragic reminder of how important it is to be safe during a thunderstorm. Continue reading →

On Sunday afternoon, 20,000 bathers at Venice Beach in Los Angeles were surprised by a ferocious 15-minute thunderstorm, during which lightning strikes killed a 20-year-old man and injured at least a dozen other people, at least one critically. Witnesses told Los Angeles TV station KTLA that the first lightning bolt, which struck the water near the Venice pier, sounded like a "bomb," and actually made the ground shake.

The storm was a rare weather phenomenon, where an intense high-pressure system drove warm, moist air mass up from Mexico and the Gulf of California, creating unstable atmospheric conditions. The National Weather Service predicted isolated showers and thunderstorms throughout the southern California region today.

Fortunately, the chance of being struck by lightning is only about 1 in 500,000 in a given year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so, about 35 people are killed by lightning in the United States each year. Here are some tips from NOAA and the CDC on how to stay safe.

If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone trips and outdoor activities.

When you hear thunder, go indoors. Find a safe, enclosed shelter. If you can hear thunder, you're close enough to be hit by lightning.

You can be struck by lightning in a car, but you're safer inside a vehicle than outside. If you're in a car, keep the windows closed. Avoid open-topped vehicles like convertibles and golf carts. The steel frame of a car offers better protection if you're not touching metal. Rubber shoes and tires don't offer protection from strikes.

Avoid shelter under an isolated tree.

Stay away from concrete floors or walls. They often contain metal wires or bars, which can conduct electricity from a lightning strike.

Don't use a corded telephone, because it can conduct electricity as well. If you need to call someone, use a wireless handset or a cell phone.

Lightning can travel through plumbing, so stay away from sinks and faucets.

Avoid ponds, pools, lakes and other bodies of water.

The chances of being injured in a lightning storm like this one are about 1 in 500,000, but you still should take precautions.

Oct. 2, 2012 --

NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission is working to understanding extreme weather with photos of rain and snow worldwide every three hours. But how do these storms look on the ground? NASA's GPM extreme weather photo contest highlights the beauty and ferocity seen first hand from storm-chasers before they duck for cover. Here are NASA's top five picks from over 100 submissions. This photo by Jason Weingart, a photography student at the University of Central Florida, shows a Volusia County lifeguard signaling to surfers at Ormond Beach, Fla., that it is time to exit the water. "The storm actually pushed back on shore as it moved south, and then became strong enough for tornado warnings on three separate occasions. I saw a large wall cloud, another spectacular shelf cloud, and some very tight rotation in the couple hours I stuck with the storm after I left the beach in Ormond," wrote Weingart. NASA Fun Fact: "A shelf cloud is a type of arcus cloud with a wedge shape. It is a low level, horizontal cloud formation usually associated with the leading edge of thunderstorms. The leading (outer) part of the shelf cloud appears smooth due to rising cloud motions, while the underside often appears jagged and wind-torn."

Atmospheric scientist Grant Petty of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, was with a photography club on a farm in Dane County when he saw this thunderstorm building several miles to the east. "The storm cell dropped 1-3/4 inch hail near Sun Prairie. Fall streaks barely visible under the right side of the anvil may in fact be the falling hail,” he said.

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“This photo was taken in a wash that runs through my neighborhood in Maricopa, AZ. The wash runs north/south through the neighborhood and the haboob (type of intense dust storm) was rolling in from the east," reported photographer Meggan Wood. "I saw the wall of dust coming and quickly drove to the wash to get a good wide-open view of the height of the dust looming over the houses. I barely had time to get back to my car before it hit and I was engulfed! The darkness was surprising but it only lasted about 10-15 minutes before it thinned out enough to where I could drive back home, only about 2 minutes away. This was the giant haboob that made national news when it rolled through and entirely covered all of Phoenix and some surrounding cities. Maricopa is about a half-hour drive south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport."

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Journalist Brian Allen with the Voice of America was at home in Arlington, Va., when this storm rolled over Washington. "The storm that blew through started off with an incredible amount of lightning and then dumped a significant amount of rain in a short amount of time -- on the other side of the river. DC got drenched and Arlington didn't see a drop,” he reported.

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Writer and photographer Brian Johnson is a also an avid storm-chaser for several Kansas radio stations. “As a large squall line moved through the area. The National Weather Service had warned about a large scale Derecho forming and moving through," he wrote. "This spawned a couple brief severe thunderstorms that dumped hail on rush hour traffic before the main line moved in. As the bigger storm moved into the Wichita area, reports were coming in of 70 mph winds and hail. There is an open farm field roughly two miles from my house that I shot lightning on the previous night. I sat there for about 20 minutes before this large squall line pushed through the clouds. I was hit with a pretty good gust front as it got closer, but as the winds increased, I decided to get to shelter. This photo was one of the last ones I took." Read more about Johnson's storm-chasing adventure here:

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