Lightning safety tips while indoors, outdoors during a Florida storm

With more newcomers in Florida, the state that ranks first in the country for lightning strikes, it doesn’t hurt to once again provide some safety tips during the summer storms here.

The odds of being struck by a bolt in a given year are less than one in a million, and almost 90% of victims survive. Still, lightning kills around 20 people each year in the U.S., and hundreds more are injured.

So far this year, according to the National Weather Service, 13 people have died following a direct lightning strike. One of those lightning fatalities occurred in Florida when a 27-year-old man was mowing a lawn, near a palm tree. 

In early August, three people died after a lightning strike occurred near the White House. All were located in a park, riding out the storm under a tree.

After a recent Good Day segment discussing lightning strike deaths, FOX 13’s Meteorologist Dave Osterberg received a high volume of viewer questions on what to do inside and outside during a thunderstorm. Below are his answers.

Can you shower during a thunderstorm? 

The answer is no. Absolutely not. People don't realize that when lightning strikes your house, it can go through the pipes, it will go through the water, and anything metal. Think of the fixtures in your tub. Metal. 

People have been struck. It's rare. It's very rare, but it can happen. This is what I'd tell you. If you can hear that thunder outside, your house is close enough to be struck.

Avoid bathing. Avoid washing dishes. Avoid stuff like that. The odds are low. I'm talking about extreme circumstances, but it has happened and can happen.

Can I use the phone?

Back in the day when phones hung on a wall and had a cord, using them was a "no-no" during storms. If your home still has one of those, don't use them.

But cell phones are OK. They are not corded. If lightning hits your house, it's going to run through the wires and the piping of your house, but it's not going to jump into your cell phone.

Do lightning rods keep a home safe?

Yes and no. The answer is kind of, but it's expensive. You're talking about an average $1,500 to properly get the lightning rods and ground them. That's a big expense for a lot of folks. It's almost not necessary.

Here's where it's necessary: If you have a house that is 10 feet or less away from a massive tree, like double the size of your house, then it's probably better if you did get a lightning rod. If a bolt was to strike that tree, it can go toward the lightning rod and stay away from your house.

MORE: Lightning striking moving truck in St. Pete caught on camera

Does a metal roof attract lightning?

No. A metal roof does not attract lightning, in fact, experts said it's better. It's got a Class A-fire resistance rating, so if lightning was to strike your roof, it's not going to start a fire like your regular roof with the shingles would. Technically, a metal roof might be better for you.

Should I turn off appliances and TV?

In the real world, yes. But let's be honest, folks, we're not running around, turning off all our appliances during a lightning storm, even when you're not home during a lightning storm. The best thing you can do if you have sensitive equipment on your computer is get those surge protectors.

But there's something else you can get, a surge arrester on the side of your house. So, if lightning was to try to come into your house through the wiring, that arrester could help to stop it a little bit. Between that and a surge protector, it should keep your appliances safe.

Hey, if you're at home with nothing else to do, and you want to turn them off, great. But that's hard to do. We have so many appliances and TVs in the house. Surge protectors and surge arresters – those will help.

What do you do if you're caught out on a boat?

Anglers are one of the most common lightning strike victims.

If you can't get back to the dock, you're miles offshore, you really can't outrun these storms because the winds and the seas start to pick up and that can cause damage to your boat. Let's say you have an enclosed cabin, not all of us do, but some do. You want to go inside that cabin, you want to put your life jacket on, and you want to stay away from metal.

Why would you put your life jacket on? Because if lightning was to strike your boat, and you were to get knocked out, your life jacket is on if you fell in. Or if lightning hit your boat and put a hole in it, cause it to go on fire, or sink – your life jacket is already on.

Also, lower your antennas. A lot of people have those big towers for fishing poles – take those down. Get off your radios, turn off your electronics, and turn off your boat.

READ: Riverview boy, 11, back home after lightning strike knocks him out of boat

These are all things to make it a little bit safer if you are completely stuck out on the water.

Now, if you're in an open boat, like a pontoon boat or something that doesn't have an enclosed cabin. There's not much you can do. What they say is anchor up, life jackets on, take all your jewelry off (remember, lightning is attracted to metal), and get yourself as low as you can by squatting down. 

If you are stuck in that worst-case scenario, that's all you can do to keep yourself safe. Don't use the electronics or VHF radios – anything that can draw that lightning in.

Should boaters get in the water? Is it safer than being on a boat?

Absolutely, positively not. You do not want to get into the water. When lightning does hit the water, it can spread out 20-25 meters. If you're in the water, you can get struck.

That is one of the least safe places you can be. That also goes for swimming pools. 

You'll want to stay in your boat. As risky as that is, it is still technically safer than you would be in the water.

MORE: Lightning strike terrifies Sebring homeowner, sets yard on fire

If you're outside, with no shelter around, is it OK to lay flat on the ground?

You do not want to lay flat on the ground.

Some scientists say it's better to crouch down on the balls of your feet. It makes you the lowest thing out there.

Now, if lightning does strike the ground near you, it can reach the tip of your feet in that position. If your feet are flat against the ground, you're on your knees, or laying down, those parts of your body that are touching the ground will be impacted.

Don't go under a tree. If you do, you made yourself "part of that tree" if it's struck. Even if you're 10 feet or 20 feet from that tree, a ground current goes in different directions when the tree is struck and can reach you.

How long should people wait after the storm to go back outside?

When you don't hear the thunder anymore. But the rule of thumb is this: 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.