Lightning Safety: What you need to know

  • Published
  • By William Roeder, 45th Weather Squadron

Lightning is the second leading source of weather-related deaths in Florida. Central Florida is considered the nation’s ‘Lightning Alley’ with the most lightning per square mile in the U.S. Our lightning season begins in late May and ends in September.

In the past, lightning was the number one source of weather-related deaths in Florida. However, over the past 20 years, public education has cut the rate of Florida’s lightning-related fatalities in half. This statistic was discovered by recent research conducted by Lake Nona High School sponsored by the 45th Weather Squadron. 

The following are Frequently Asked Questions in regards to lighting safety offered from the 45th Weather Squadron.

Q: Is it true that 99 percent of all lightning-related fatalities occur outside?
A: Yes

Q: How can I stay safe when lightning is expected, imminent or occurring when I am on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or Patrick Air Force Base? 
A: When on CCAFS or PAFB, listen for the lightning watches and warnings. Follow your local procedures when you hear those alerts. If you can’t hear the watches and warnings at your work location, heed the lightning slogans included in the ‘Off CCAFS/PAFB’ procedures below. Plan ahead to avoid the hazard on CCAFS by using the local weather forecasts from 45th Weather Squadron and log on to  

Q: What is the difference between a watch and warning?

A ‘Phase-1 Lightning Watch’ means lightning is expected within the specified area. The ‘Phase-1 Lightning Watch’ is issued up to 30 minutes before the forecast onset of lightning. Although lightning has yet to strike, conditions are developing for dangerous lightning soon. 

A ‘Phase-2 Lightning Warning’ is issued when lightning is imminent or occurring within the specified area. At that point, you are in danger and should immediately take protective action(s).

Q: What are the areas that the 45th Weather Squadron issues lightning watches and warnings at PAFB and CCAFS? 
A: Launch Complex-40/41, Launch Complex-37/ITL, Cape Central, and the Port. The included figure shows the locations of the lightning warning areas. It’s important to understand that lightning watches and warnings issued by the 45th Weather Squadron directly apply to only a small circular zone at the center of the larger warning areas.

As depicted in the figure, the lightning warnings directly apply to only the small, green (interior) zones. The larger (outer) yellow circles provide a prudent safety buffer. However, there may be instances when substantial regions within the larger yellow circles could be dangerously close to a thunderstorm and, yet, not have a lightning warning issued. For example, lightning could be occurring just outside a warning area (yellow circle) while someone working outdoors is located just inside the warning area’s (circle’s) edge. That person would be in danger, yet a lightning warning would correctly not be issued. The 45th Weather Squadron lightning watches and warnings directly apply to only a small area at the center of each warning areas.

When working outdoors and beyond the small inner green circles of the lightning warning areas, Phase 1 Lightning Watches and Phase 2 Lightning Warnings may not provide adequate time to secure operations and seek safety. You should review your organization’s safety procedures and work with your management to ensure you understand the lightning precautions specific to your work locations. For example, if an outdoor activity is outside the inner green circle, that activity may need to be scheduled when no lightning is predicted.

Q: How can I stay safe when lightning is expected, imminent or occurring when I am off base? 
A: Use the three slogans and four levels of lightning safety.
1. No place outdoors is safe when thunderstorms are in the area
2. When thunder roars, go indoors
3. Half an hour since thunder roars, now it’s safe to go outdoors

Q: What are the four levels of lighting safety and provide a high degree of safety?

Level-1:  Prevention.  Schedule outdoor activities to avoid the lightning hazard.  Use the local forecasts from the National Weather Service Forecast Office at Melbourne (  Know the local thunderstorm patterns.  The National Weather Service Graphical Hazardous Weather Outlook, issued each morning, includes a map indicating where lightning is  likely occur during the next 24 hours. 

Level-2:  Awareness.  Know when and where to go for lightning safety.  Watch the skies for signs of approaching or locally developing thunderstorms.  If you hear thunder, the storm is close enough to be a danger – go to a safe place quickly!  One safe place is a large fully enclosed building with wiring and plumbing:  a typical house, school, office, store, etc.  Another safe place from lightning is a vehicle with a solid metal roof and solid metal sides--a typical car, truck or bus.  When indoors, stay away from conducting paths to the outside:  corded telephones (except for emergencies), electrical appliances and wiring, and plumbing.

Level-3:  Risk reduction.  If you must be outside with thunderstorms in the area, you are in danger.  Reduce your risk:  1) Avoid elevated places, wide-open areas like sports fields and beaches, and tall isolated objects;  2) do not seek shelter under trees;  3) avoid swimming, boating and fishing; and, 4) avoid small open structures when possible, such as pavilions and rain shelters, as they provide little-to-no lightning protection.

Level-4:  First aid.  Lightning-related deaths are from cardiac or respiratory arrest.  Use CPR or rescue breathing, as needed.  Have someone call 9-1-1.  If an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is available, use it on victims who are unconscious or unresponsive.  If the AED doesn’t fire, resume the CPR.

More information is available at  For lightning safety training, contact the 45th Weather Squadron (321) 853-8410.