Staying safe in thunderstorms during animal events
Having a plan in place is the key to your safety.
If you participate in outdoor events such as horse or livestock shows, fairs, and trail rides you’ve probably been faced with the decision regarding what to do in the event of a thunderstorm. What if you hear thunder, but don’t see lightning? Should the event be called off? For how long? Where is the safest place to go? What about the animals? This article will attempt to answer these questions, so that the next time you’re faced with these decisions, you can make informed decisions to keep yourself, your family and your animals, safe.
When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “more than 400 people are struck by lightning” each year, with 55-60 killed, and hundreds more suffering permanent disabilities. According to NOAA most of those who were struck either waited too long to seek shelter, or went back outside too soon. The recommendation from NOAA is that you “stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder clap.” While many are aware of the fact that activities should cease when lightning is present, NOAA suggests that, “if you hear thunder, you are in danger.” Further, all thunder storms produce lightning, and lightning may strike as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
Tips for staying safe at animal events
Animal shows often involve announcer’s booths with electrical equipment and wiring. This can make a dangerous situation even worse, as sheds, picnic shelters, tents or other ungrounded buildings do not protect from lightning. If you hear thunder, you should move to a sturdy building with wiring and plumbing such as a restroom facility, or to a hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows closed. Again, remain there until 30 minutes after the sound of the last thunderclap. Although it is rarely an issue at an outdoor event, do not use a corded phone during a storm. Cellular phones are safe to use, however. If you are camping at a fair, remember that water pipes also conduct electricity, so avoid taking a shower during a thunderstorm.
If it is possible to move animals into a grounded barn at an event, that is likely the best option depending on it’s construction. Reloading animals into trailers may also provide safe shelter until the storm passes, if that is the only option. Remember that lightning will seek the easiest path to earth, so avoid higher elevations, single trees, etc.
Michigan State University Extension recommends having a plan in place including where to go and what to do in the event of a thunderstorm during an outdoor animal activity is key to your safety. Listening for announcements and directions from show managers, and following directions as shared will also be helpful. Keeping a close eye on the weather, through the use of weather apps such as RadarCast, or your local news station can also help you know how much time you have to execute your safety plan.