Lightning fatalities: How common are they and how can you protect yourself?

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(WKBN) — Severe thunderstorms have been active in many parts of the United States this week, including a tornado in Maryland, flash flooding in Death Valley National Park and extreme heat in the central U.S. Another major story from this week was a lightning strike that nearly hit the White House in Washington, D.C., causing three fatalities and one injury.

During the summer months, it’s important to have a heightened sense of awareness of lightning because thunderstorms can strike at any place and any time.

How many lightning-related fatalities are there in the United States every year?

Every year in the United States, 20 to 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur. Over 300 people are struck by lightning every year in the U.S., and there are around 50 lightning fatalities per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the odds of being struck by lightning are less than 1 in a million, and 90% of lightning strike victims survive.

Despite the high survival rate, though, many people who survive the strike end up having some sort of disability as a result.

United States lightning fatalities by gender from 2012-2022 (Courtesy of NOAA)

What activities are most prone to lightning fatalities?

A 2020 study published by the National Lightning Safety Council found that 61% of lightning fatalities from 2006-2019 occurred during leisure activities, with fishing contributing the most to fatalities. The second-leading category of lightning fatalities during leisure activities came from sporting events. Soccer and golf both contributed the most to lightning fatalities in the sporting event category.

Lightning Facts/Myths

Fact: Lightning strikes can heat the air to a temperature of over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Fact: Lightning can strike you when you’re inside a building or a vehicle.

Myth: Ever hear the saying “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice?” It’s a myth. Lightning actually favors tall objects. The Empire State Building in New York City is struck by lightning multiple times per year.

Myth: “If a storm is not directly overhead, then I cannot be struck by lightning.” This is also a myth. Lightning can strike outside of a thunderstorm up to 10 miles away. This is often referred to as a bolt from the blue.

How can I protect myself from lightning strikes?

If you’re outside, the best way to avoid being struck by lightning is to head indoors. The probability of being struck increases the longer you spend outside.

Remember the phrase: “When thunder roars go indoors!

(Courtesy of NOA)

If you’re stuck outside, avoid tall objects like power poles, trees or mountaintops: these are the objects most likely to be struck by lightning.

A few extra tips: If you’re in a group, spread out to prevent multiple injuries in the event of a lightning bolt. Also, stay away from water or wet objects as this gives lightning an additional path to travel down.

Remember, the best plan to have when a thunderstorm’s nearby is to head indoors until it’s passed by your area.



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