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Take safety steps during most dangerous month for lightning strikes

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Story highlights

National Weather Service: "When thunder roars, go indoors"

If no buildings are nearby, seek refuge in a metal-topped car with windows closed

90% of lightning victims survive, but many have lifelong disabilities

CNN —  

A group of hikers were 500 feet below the summit of a Colorado mountain in 2015 when storm clouds suddenly filled the sky.

A lightning strike – a brief but intense burst of electricity – affected as many as 16 hikers. Three were rushed to a local hospital and eight others required medical treatment, according to the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office. All the hikers survived the incident, but one hiker’s dog was killed.

Across the country in Greeleyville, South Carolina, lightning may have caused a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church that gutted the interior and collapsed the roof, according to the FBI.

July is the month when the number of lightning strikes – and fatalities – is at its highest. On average, 49 people are killed and hundreds more are injured in the United States each year by lightning strikes.

The odds of being struck in your lifetime are about 1 in 12,000, the National Weather Service estimates. But experts say there are a few rules to help keep people safe.

“We need to look at lightning safety proactively, not reactively,” said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, a physician and lightning researcher who directed the Lightning Injury Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Avoiding situations where lightning can strike is key.”

One simple rule

The National Weather Service recommends one rule to avoid lightning injuries: “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

No place outside is safe when there are thunderstorms in the area, they say, as lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles away from a storm. If there isn’t a structure nearby, a metal-topped vehicle with closed windows can provide safety.

Stay safe indoors

Although the safest place from lightning is indoors, there a number of extra precautions to take once inside.