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Lightning—The Underrated Killer

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena—lightning. In the United States, an average of 43 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2018, there were 20 deaths in the United States attributed to lightning. Over the past decade, the U.S. has averaged 400 lightning injuries per year. The injury number is likely far lower than it should be because many people do not seek help or doctors do not record the injury as a lightning injury.

Lightning is a serious danger. In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. Lightning can be fascinating to watch, but it is also extremely dangerous. Few people really understand the dangers of lightning.  

Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning strike, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground. While almost all people take some protective actions during the most dangerous part of thunderstorms, many leave themselves vulnerable to being struck by lightning as thunderstorms approach, depart, or are nearby.

Lightning can strike as far as ten miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm. That’s about the distance you can hear thunder. When a storm is ten miles away, it may even be difficult to tell a storm is coming. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately! The first strike of lightning is just as deadly as the last. 

Use the 30-30 rule where visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within six miles of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.

The threat of lightning continues for a much longer period than most people think. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. Don’t be fooled by sunshine or blue sky!

Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occur during the summer months when the combinations of lightning and outdoor summertime activities reach a peak. People who are outdoors need to take action in a timely manner when thunderstorms approach.

Inside homes, people must also be aware of ways to reduce their risk of lightning strikes. They should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. Lightning is a dangerous threat to people in the United States, particularly those outside in the summer. By using common sense, the number of lightning deaths could be greatly reduced.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners

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