(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 United States. 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 is important to have a heightened sense of awareness regarding 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 one 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.
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.
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 are inside of a home, business or a car
Myth: Every hear the saying “Lightning does not strike the same place twice?” This is 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 are outside, the best way to avoid being struck by lightning is to head indoors. While you can still be struck by lightning indoors, the probability of being struck increases the longer you spend outside.
Remember the phrase: “When thunder roars go indoors!“
If you are stuck outside, avoid tall objects such as power poles, trees or mountain tops. These objects are the most likely to be struck by lightning. If you are in a group, spread out to give some space to prevent multiple injuries in the event of a lightning bolt. 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 is nearby is to head indoors until the thunderstorm has passed by your area.