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Lightning Safety Awareness Week: Core Facts & Figures

Sunday the 23rd of June marked the start of Lightning Safety Awareness Week! This week is dedicated to fostering thunder and lightning safety across the US, ensuring that people can stay safe from harm during storms. This is especially crucial with Hurricane Season in full effect, with certain areas of the country under particular threat of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. 

This blog will cover core lightning statistics, patterns, regional data, safety guidelines, and myths versus facts. By the end, your lightning awareness will be supercharged!

Core Lightning Statistics

Some vital statistics set the tone for Lightning Safety Awareness Week. Absorbing these facts and figures is useful for better understanding the phenomenon and its risks. 

  • The U.S. experiences around 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes annually.
  • The average number of lightning-related deaths per year in the U.S. is 43, but the number is trending downwards.
  • Only 10% of those struck by lightning die, while 90% suffer injuries, which can often lead to chronic pains, discomforts, and disabilities.
  • The record for the most lightning strikes survived by one person is held by Roy C. Sullivan, a park ranger struck seven times throughout his life.
  • Men are four times more likely to be struck by lightning than women, with many attributing this to jobs, hobbies, and lifestyle differences.
  • Most lightning victims are men aged 20 to 45.
  • Lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm, including “bolts from the blue” outside cloud cover.
  • A lightning bolt can carry up to 10 million volts of electricity and reach temperatures of 30,000 Kelvin.
  • Lightning strikes are more common in areas with frequent thunderstorms and mountainous regions.
  • Lightning incidents are most common from May to September, typically in the afternoons or early evenings.
  • The risk of being struck by lightning in the U.S. is approximately 1 in 10,000 over a lifetime.

Lightning can do serious damage, even if it’s not always fatal. It’s also important to note that the number of lightning-related deaths trending down – in  2006 49 were killed while 2023 only saw 14 fatalities – shows that lightning awareness and safety are improving nationwide.

States Most Prone to Lightning Strikes in the U.S.

Certain states in the U.S. experience a higher frequency of lightning strikes than others. This is due to several factors, such as their climatic conditions and geographical features. Based on data from the National Lightning Detection Network, the following states are among the most lightning-prone:

Florida: Known as the "Lightning Capital" of the U.S, Florida experiences a lot of thunderstorms throughout Hurricane Season, with an average of 1.45 million cloud-to-ground (CTG) strikes every year. 

Texas: Being the country’s second-largest state, Texas experiences an average of 1.52 million CTG strikes annually. The climate of Texas also facilitates year-round thunderstorms, with which comes more lightning. 

Louisiana: This state, prone to extreme weather events and disasters of many forms, is known for its high humidity and frequent thunderstorms. Louisiana experiences 827,000 CTG lightning strikes a year on average. 

Oklahoma: Frequent severe storms hit this state nestled in Tornado Alley, with a high frequency of lightning strikes and events across the spring and summer months. Oklahoma averages 726,000 CTG lighting strikes a year. 

Mississippi: Mississippi has a similar climate to Louisiana, meaning it experiences high humidity and regular thunderstorms. With around 611,000 CTG lightning strikes a year, it can certainly be considered a hotspot. 

Alabama: The state has a humid subtropical climate, meaning it experiences a lot of rain and heat throughout the year. This means it averages around 808,000 CTG strikes a year, mostly in the summer. 

Similar numbers can be applied to states like Georgia, the Carolinas, and Arizona, with all hotspot states known for heat and humidity. 

Causes of Lightning Injuries

Being struck by lightning directly is not the only way that it can injure or kill you. There are five primary ways that lightning is known for causing injury or death. 

  1. Direct Strike: Being directly hit by lightning.
  2. Contact Injury: When a person touches an object struck by lightning.
  3. Side Splash: When lightning jumps from a nearby object (like a tree) to a person.
  4. Ground Current: When lightning hits the ground and the current travels to a person.
  5. Streamers: Smaller offshoots of a main lightning strike that hit people.

These different ways that lightning can cause injury show just how vital proper lightning safety is. Any of these causes can result in muscle pains, broken bones, cardiac arrest, confusion, hearing loss, seizures, burns, behavioral changes, and ocular cataracts to name a few outcomes – not to mention death.

Activities that Lead to Lightning Injuries

Also known as “The Deadly Dozen”, these are the activities that have resulted in the most lightning deaths in the US between 2006 and 2023. This means if you’re planning on participating in any of them soon, do so with caution!

Activity

Number of Deaths

Percentage of all Deaths

Fishing

41

9%

Beach Visits

29

6%

Boating

25

5%

Camping 

23

5%

Farming/Ranching

23

5%

Roofing

20

4%

Riding a Bike/ATV

19

4%

Outdoor Social Gatherings

17

4%

Construction

16

3%

Walking to/from Car

16

3%

Yardwork 

15

3%

Golf

14

3%

Total

258

54%

Things like proper camping lightning safety and fishing precautions must be considered if participating in any of these activities, especially during a stormy season. 

Where to Go During a Thunderstorm

If you find yourself amid a thunderstorm, there are some basic lightning safety tips that you should refer to immediately – the primary tip being FIND SHELTER! Many use the phrase “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” as a rule for staying safe from strikes. 

Here are some additional tips for where and where not to go during thunderstorms. 

Do Seek

Large Enclosed Shelters: This means going for larger buildings with plumbing and electrical wiring, such as shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and larger homes if possible. Plumbing and wiring will help to ground the current of lightning even if it does strike the structure. 

Alternative Safe Shelters: Other options for safe shelter include enclosed metal vehicles – cars, vans, or school buses. Make sure to roll the windows up, while avoiding contact with conducting paths such as anything metal, the ignition, or portable electronics plugged into chargers.

Do Not Seek

Outdoor Exposed Shelters: Avoid seeking shelter in outdoor exposed areas. This means staying away from tall objects, generally wide open spaces, and buildings with exposed sections (like beach huts). It’s also important to note that convertible vehicles are totally unsafe as a point of shelter. 

These general principles should be followed whenever a thunderstorm appears around you. Real, well-built structures are king, while makeshift, exposed spaces can generally be considered unsafe. 

Indoor Lightning Safety Guidelines

While shelter is the most important element of lightning safety, it’s also vital to remember some essential steps to guarantee security once indoors. 

    • Never Use Corded Phones: Avoid using corded phones as they can carry current if the house or building is struck by lightning; cordless or cell phones are safe if not being charged.
    • Stay Away from Windows and Doors: Stay away from windows and doors, along with open porches, as all of these spaces can easily leave you exposed to a CTG strike.
    • Electrical Equipment: Don't touch any corded electrical equipment or cords. It can also be safer to unplug certain devices before the storm arrives as some might explode or react if the home is struck. 
    • Avoid Plumbing: Avoid using tools that require plumbing, such as taps, baths, or showers during a storm as metal pipes and water both conduct electricity.
    • Never Touch Concrete Surfaces: Avoid touching concrete surfaces with embedded metal, meaning worktops or walls.
  • Be Smart with Pets: Bring your pets inside as dog houses are unsafe during storms. It’s also important to avoid chaining pets to trees or structures, along with offering proper shelter for livestock. 

These guidelines should ensure your safety once you’ve found proper shelter from a thunderstorm.  

Lightning Safety: Myth vs. Fact

While we’ve covered a lot of ground(ing) in lightning safety, there are still plenty of commonly held misconceptions about thunderstorms. We’ve put together this table to break down which ideas about lightning are more informed by cartoons than reality. 

Myth 

Reality

Touching a lightning victim can electrocute you.

Lightning victims do not store electricity – you should touch them to provide first aid and help if they’re struck. 

You are safe from lightning if it’s not actually raining. 

Lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from the storm. 

Rubber shoe soles or tires will protect you from the impact of lightning.

Rubber provides no protection if you’re struck by lightning. 

Heat lightning (meaning silent lightning) is totally safe. 

Heat lightning is just further away – if you can hear it, follow safety guidelines. 

Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Lightning hits the same place all the time – case and point the Empire State Building. 

Seeking shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm is a safe move. 

Trees are often struck by lightning, with sheltering under them one of the leading causes of fatalities. 

Metal attracts lightning. 

Height, shape, and isolation are the elements that attract lightning – metal doesn’t attract it but does conduct it.

Lying flat on the ground is safer during a thunderstorm. 

Being outside during a thunderstorm puts you in danger, whatever position you’re in. 

Conclusion

Lightning Safety Awareness Week is crucial in spreading knowledge about lightning dangers and promoting safety measures to prevent injuries and fatalities. Our partners, NOAA, have programmed a week’s worth of online education for additional information. Whether trying to brave a camping lightning storm or planning a trip to an at-risk state, it’s vital to stay informed to avoid any shocking injuries!

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