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What you should do if you are caught in a storm outdoors

Seeking shelter is important to keep you safe during a storm.

WASHINGTON — It was about 6:50 p.m. in D.C. on a Thursday.  On that  fourth day of August in 2022, the skies grew dark and storms became ferocious.  Heavy rain and intense lightning unleashed their wrath on the District.   That intense lightning would then strike at Lafayette Park near the White House, leaving 4 people hurt.  Tragically, two people later died and the other two people were critically injured.   

Being outside in a storm is one of the most unsafe places to be. So what if you are caught in a storm outside ? If at an outdoor concert or at the park, you may consider returning to your car for shelter and then waiting at least 30 minutes after the storm passes to come back out.  Also if you know that storms are in the forecast, track them and be prepared to push back your plans until after the storm passes.

RELATED: Videos show flooding at Merriweather Post Pavilion as concert-goers wait for show

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Staying outside in a storm is simply not safe. Here's what The National Weather Service says you should do if you are caught outside in a thunderstorm:

  • Keep moving towards a safe shelter. If you are caught out in the open, do not stop.
  • Stay away from isolated trees or other tall objects. You do not want to be the tallest object! If you are in a forest, stay within a lower group of trees.

  • Avoid open fields, hills, boulder fields, rocky outcrops, and ridge tops. Do not lie flat on the ground.

  • Avoid bodies of water and metal objects, which can conduct electricity.

  • Distance yourself from others in your group. Spread out so that, at most, only one person is likely to be hurt by lightning and the others can apply first aid.

The National Weather Service also recommends avoiding bleachers, dugouts and grandstands or standing near tall light poles. 

If the hair starts standing up on the back of your neck, watch out - lightning is likely about to strike. 

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Lightning has a long arm 

On average lightning can strike 15 to 25 miles away. This is why the National Weather Service recommends that you wait at least 30 minutes until a storm passes to give yourself a safe distance between you and the storm. In fact, a new record was confirmed in 2022 for a record lightning bolt that stretched 477 miles.  

A tree is not the place to be 

A tree may look like a great place to take shelter, but it's actually one of the worst places to be. Why? The wind can easily knock over a tree. Also, lightning is attracted to tall objects. 

Water can knock you off of your feet

It doesn't take much water to make you stumble or fall. Six inches of moving water is enough to knock most adults off of their feet. If the forecast calls for heavy rain, scope out a place where you can quickly get to higher ground. 

A gamble with safety

There have been many cases of people stuck in the rain during concerts including concerts for Taylor Swift and Diana Ross, to name a few.  

Such was the case in the DMV in June.  Concert goers showed up for a show. They got a storm instead. With tickets in hand, hundreds of fans flocked to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland June 8, 2022 to see the pop star Halsey. But instead of music blasting, the sky opened up and it poured. Severe storms with heavy rain moved through the DMV. Soon, the rains flooded the amphitheater leaving concertgoers standing in ankle-deep water.

Little did they know that they were in danger; sitting ducks amongst water that can easily conduct electricity.

No one was inured there, but in some cases, being outside in a storm at a concert turned out to be nearly fatal. That was the case for Brittney Prehn, who was struck by lightning at the concert series Country Thunder in 2018. In a report from Fox 6 Milwaukee, Prehn was walking to a campsite when lightning struck her phone and entered the right side of her head. The bolt traveled through her body and out of her foot, the station reported.  

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