Experts say 10-year-old Jeremiah Miller and his father were doing just the right thing early Thursday (June 11) as a powerful thunderstorm rolled over their campsite at Mike’s Southport Fishing Lakes campground in suburban Indianapolis: Leave their tent and head for a car. 

But on the way, the Indianapolis boy was hit by one of the more than 2,000 lightning strikes the storm spawned, a number typical for a storm of that size, and died, according to the Indianapolis Star

“I would say it was a tragic accident,” said Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Paul Thompson. 

Although not all lightning strikes are fatal, every thunderstorm has the capability to produce deadly bolts, said Chad Omitt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. 

“Lightning when you’re outside is extremely dangerous,” Omitt said. “If you’re close enough to hear the thunder, you’re close enough to be struck and killed when you’re outside.” 

On average, 58 Americans are killed each year by lightning strikes, Omitt said. Central Indiana averages one death a year. 

The National Weather Service recommends people seek safe shelter when they first hear thunder, see threatening clouds or see lightning. 

Lightning strikes are impossible to predict, Omitt said. 

“That’s what makes lightning so dangerous,” he said, “because we really don’t know when or where it’s going to strike.” 

How many people are hit by lightning every year? 

The National Weather Service estimates about 540 people are injured by lightning each year. Some injuries lead to permanent brain or neurological damage. 

How powerful is a lightning bolt? 

A bolt can be more than five miles long, reach temperatures of 50,000 degrees and contain 100 million electrical volts — roughly a million times the voltage of a household outlet, according to the weather service. 

How do I avoid lightning? 

The weather service says that if you are outdoors and can hear thunder, you should seek safe shelter or, if one is not available, go inside a car and roll up the windows. Once there, wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder before re-emerging. 

Why is a car safe during a storm? 

One thing experts agree on: Tires have nothing to do with it. Turns out that the electricity from a strike would look for an easy path to follow, which in most cars means the metal exterior. Folks inside would be safe, unless the car is a convertible or made of plastic or fiberglass. 

What kind of building is safe? 

For the same reason an all-metal car is safe, the weather service says you want an enclosed building with plumbing and electricity. Those pipes and wires will give the electricity a path away from people, as long as the people are staying away from the wires and pipes. So avoid using a land-line phone or taking a shower, for example, during a thunderstorm.