A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

22 Things You Didn’t Know About Thunderstorms

Thunder and lightning are much more complex than you think.

1 / 22
Lightning strikes during a nighttime thunderstorm.
John D Sirlin/Shutterstock

Lightning is everywhere

Lightning strikes more than eight million times a day worldwide. That’s about 93 times per second. Read more thunderstorm facts about lightning strikes.

2 / 22
Road view through car window with rain drops driving in rain.Traffic view from car windscreen in rain.Driving in rain.Selective focus
ibnu alias/Shutterstock

Don’t drive in water

The first rule of driving through a flooded area is: Don’t. At least half of all flood-related drownings happen when folks drive a vehicle into water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 6 inches of standing water can cause your engine to stall and you to lose control of your car, and a foot can sweep your car off the road. In a flood that means you could sink or drown.

3 / 22
John D Sirlin/Shutterstock

It’s hotter than the sun

How hot is a lightning bolt? About 50,000°F—­five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

4 / 22
Power line worker fixing from the truck basket.

Believe it or not, the period after a severe weather event is usually the most dangerous

You have fallen trees, downed power lines, flooding, debris, broken glass and sharp objects all over the place. And because stoplights don’t work and people are upset, they tend to blow through intersections, so car wrecks are common and are sometimes fatal.

5 / 22
top view of colorful fish

Yes, it really can rain frogs, fish, and other decidedly odd things

It’s a rare meteorological event, but one of the weirdest thunderstorm facts is that scientists say strong winds from a tornado or from a storm can be powerful enough to propel animals and objects high into the air, and they have to come down eventually. A small Australian town reported hundreds of fish falling from the sky in 2010.

6 / 22
African American Woman washing cleansing face in morning showerBeautiful wet woman face Close-up portrait on white background beauty woman skin care, washing with splash
Red Confidential/Shutterstock

It is a bad idea to take a shower during a thunderstorm

If lightning hits your house, it can travel through your plumbing and shock anyone who comes into contact with water flowing through it. People have been shocked or killed while bathing, washing dishes, and doing laundry. (This is also why indoor pools often close during storms.) These are the secrets TV weather forecasters won’t tell you.

7 / 22
Wooden shed door with locking bolt
ESB Basic/Shutterstock

Don’t take shelter under wooden structures

The “shelter” at your local park, golf course or pool may protect you from sun and rain, but in a thunderstorm, it can be a death trap.  Unless a shelter is specifically built with lightning protection (most aren’t), standing under a wooden structure actually increases your chances of being struck by lightning.  Wait out the storm in your car instead.

8 / 22
Old car tires. Tires.
Vlasov Yevhenii/Shutterstock

Rubber tires are not what protects you from lightning when you’re in your car

You’re protected because when lightning hits a car, it travels around the outside of the metal structure to get to the ground. Just be careful not to touch any metal areas on the interior.

9 / 22
Close-up of running water from a faucet.
M. Shcherbyna/Shutterstock

Collect water

Many serious problems caused by a power outage are water-related. When a storm is on the way, hoard water. Fill buckets, pots and pans, old soda and milk bottles as well as your sinks and bathtub. You’ll need water for drinking, washing, and flushing the toilet.

10 / 22

They produce a lot of rain

By one measure, Tropical Storm Claudette was the wettest storm in U.S. history. It dumped 43 inches of rain in 24 hours—the most rain ever recorded in one day—on Alvin, Texas, in July 1979.

11 / 22
A small transistor radio with a string cord handle outside.
Christine Bird/Shutterstock

Get a radio

After a disaster, the No. 1 complaint is a lack of information. Invest now in a battery-operated or hand-cranked radio so you can stay connected when your power is out.

12 / 22
Struck by lightning
Muneeb Shafiq/Shutterstock

You can be struck by lightning even when it’s not raining

One of the strangest thunderstorm facts: About 10 percent of lightning strikes take place when there’s no precipitation.

13 / 22
take off at night

In the 1980s, NASA flew one airplane through 1,496 thunderstorms

It was struck by lightning more than 700 times. This was part of an effort to improve lightning-protection standards in aviation, and it worked. Today, a commercial airplane will be hit by lightning about once a year on average, typically with no ill effects. It has been decades since a U.S. airliner has crashed as a result of a lightning strike. This is the real reason your dog freaks out during thunderstorms.

14 / 22
High angle view on woman's legs wearing brown shoes and blue jeans
Andriana Syvanych/Shutterstock

Keep your feet together

If you’re ever stuck outside during a thunderstorm with no safe place to take shelter, keep your feet together. About half of all lightning deaths are caused by electric current that runs along the ground. Keeping your feet together minimizes the chance that the current will travel up and through your body, damaging your internal organs. (Also, stay away from trees and crouch down, but don’t lie down.)

15 / 22

Balloons help predict the weather

Every day, twice a day, weather trackers simultaneously launch giant balloons from almost 900 locations worldwide (including 92 released by the National Weather Service in the United States and its territories). The balloons measure aboveground weather data such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed, and they provide vital information that meteorologists use to make forecasts and predict storms.

16 / 22
Top close view of a household surge protector on a wood table top.
BW Folsom/Shutterstock

Even the best surge protectors can fail if lightning hits your house directly

Electronics today are more vulnerable than they used to be, so it doesn’t take much to blow them out. The only way to be sure they’re protected is to unplug before the storm hits.

17 / 22
Lightning strikes during a storm over El Paso, Texas
John D Sirlin/Shutterstock

It can strike twice

Lightning can strike the same place twice—and it often does, especially objects that are tall, pointy, and isolated. The Empire State Building, for example, is hit almost 100 times a year, according to the CDC.

18 / 22
Thunderstorm with bright lightnings next to Neuwied, Germany

There doesn’t have to be rain

You can get struck by lightning even when if it’s not raining. About 10 to 12 percent of lightning strikes take place where there’s no rain.

19 / 22
Foil in the window of red brick private house to reflect the summer sun
Olexandr Panchenko/Shutterstock

Covering your windows with tape will not protect them from wind or flying objects

One of the thunderstorm facts that needs to be debunked is this one. Experts promoted this idea long ago, before they realized that taping does nothing to strengthen windows and may even increase the potential for harm. (Picture giant taped-together shards of glass flying at you.) Covering your windows with storm shutters or plywood is the only way to prevent them from breaking.

20 / 22
Indian woman in city walking texting cell phone

Metal does not “attract” lightning

The reason people get hit when they’re talking on cell phones is that they’re distracted.

21 / 22
Closeup of two confident business man shaking hands

You can touch someone who has been struck by lightning

Despite what you may have heard, it’s safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning. No electric charge remains with lightning victims, which means you won’t be electrocuted if you touch them to administer first aid.

22 / 22
A record-setting hailstone that fell in Vivian, South Dakota on July 23, 2010. The hailstone broke the United States records for largest hailstone by diameter (8 inches) and weight (1 pound 15 ounces)

And nothing is going to save you if you get caught in the hailstorm from you-know-where

Ice particles form when water droplets reach cold temperatures in a thunderstorm, but they achieve a measurable size only when a storm’s updraft is strong enough to hold the ice aloft as more water droplets freeze onto the initial crystal. The largest hailstone ever recorded in the United States was found in July 2010 in Vivian, South Dakota. It was almost 19 inches around and weighed almost two pounds. Ouch.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest