Lightning: Facts About Nature's Fireworks
Lightning is one of nature's most fascinating weather spectacles, yet very deadly. This article covers lightning safety, lightning myths, and some facts and figures about lightning. Lightning picture


Lightning is an underrated killer. Spring and Summer are the seasons with the most thunderstorm activity in our area. In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. During the past 30 years, lightning killed an average of 67 people per year in the United States based on documented cases. This is more than the average of 65 deaths per year caused by tornadoes and the average of 16 deaths per year caused by hurricanes. However, because lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time, and because lightning does not cause the mass destruction left in the wake of tornadoes or hurricanes, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive weather-related killers. While documented lightning injuries in the United States average about 300 per year, undocumented injuries caused by lightning are likely much higher. In our area of responsibility, there have been a reported 6 deaths, and 27 injuries, from 1993-2004. Five of the deaths occurred with one lightning strike. A family was at Lake Moomaw, and when a thunderstorm moved in, sought shelter on an island, under a tree. The lightning struck the tree and killed all 5 underneath.

Most lightning fatalities and casualties occur to people who are outdoors. The following table (from NSSL) is a statistical breakdown of lightning casualties in the U.S. based on location.

TABLE 34. Locations and numbers of lightning casualties in Storm Data including unknown cases (%).
Code Location of casualty US West coast N Rockies S Rockies N Plains S Plains Midwest NE SE
1 Under trees 13.7% 10.4 8.6 13.4 9.7 14.5 14.8 13.5 13.6
2 Water related, fishing, boating, swimming, etc. 8.1 6.1 12.5 5.5 4.0 9.6 5.3 7.4 10.4
3 Golfing 3.9 1.2 4.3 4.6 4.2 2.2 6.2 3.1 3.6
4 Golfing and under trees 1.0 0.6 0 0.3 1.8 0.4 2.1 1.1 0.8
5 Driving tractors, farm equipment, heavy road equipment, etc. 3.0 1.2 7.1 2.1 9.0 4.1 2.6 2.0 2.7
6 Open field, ballparks, playgrounds, etc. 26.8 19.0 36.5 40.5 20.6 30.4 27.1 20.6 26.2
7 Telephone-related 2.4 1.8 1.6 1.5 3.9 2.8 2.7 1.6 2.5
8 Radios, transmitters, antennas, etc. 0.7 0 2.0 0.3 0.2 0.9 0.6 0.5 1.0
0,9 Not reported, at various other and unknown locations 40.4 59.5 27.5 31.7 46.7 35.2 38.6 50.2 39.2


Here are some links concerning lightning safety you need to remember during thunderstorms.

Lightning Outdoor Safety

Lightning Indoor Safety




MYTH: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
TRUTH: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Most people injured or killed by lightning happened before the rain began, or after the rain ended.

MYTH: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.
TRUTH: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires offer NO protection from lightning. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer in a vehicle than outside.

MYTH: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
TRUTH: Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for information on CPR and first aid classes.

MYTH: "Heat lightning" occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.
TRUTH: "Heat lightning" is a term used to describe lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard.



  • Each spark of lightning can reach over five miles in length, soar to temperatures of approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million electrical volts.
  • At any given moment, there are 1,800 thunderstorms in progress somewhere on the earth. This amounts to 16 million storms each year!
  • Five year lightning strikes map
  • Lightning Can Spread out Some 60 Feet After Striking Earth.