BLOG: How many ways can lightning kill you? - | WBTV Charlotte

BLOG: How many ways can lightning kill you?

(Photo courtesy Stuart McDaniel) (Photo courtesy Stuart McDaniel)

Answer:  Lots!

We’ll start this Blog off with a BANG… literally. Watch this YouTube video of a young woman who narrowly escapes death from a lightning strike. And then please come back for some valuable information. I think the pair is from Australia, and they have a very heavy accent, so you have permission to smile.

**WARNING: The video below contains language some viewers may find offensive**

If you looked carefully, that bolt was very singular in nature, which probably saved her life. Most people think of lightning bolts as just that, one single stroke with no extraneous electricity. In addition, most people think in order to die from lightning, it must actually strike you - completely wrong! In fact of those who die from lightning, only three to five percent are actually a victim of a direct hit!!

See picture 1 in the attached slideshow. This is a good example of a single, coherent lightning strike. But more often, lightning has what we call ‘Side Flashes’. See pictures 2 and 3. If you are in the vicinity of a strike, a side flash could easily hit you, and would kill you very quickly. In fact it is estimated that 20% - 30% of all lightning deaths are from the side flashes.


It gets scarier though. Even if you are nearby a single strike with no side flashes, you are still in the kill zone.  See picture 4. Notice how the electrical current spread out in all directions and burned the grass in doing so. Had you been standing on that ground, the electricity running across the ground could have easily contacted you and killed you.

In fact, are you ready for this? 40% - 50% of all lightning deaths are a result of ground current electrocution! More people die this way than any other from lightning.

We know that upward streamers (or leaders) kill people too, about 10% - 15% of all deaths. See picture 5. This picture shows an upward streamer jumping up the rail of a porch, but they leap up from the ground too. But those failed upward streamers would easily kill you. Notice in picture 6 – just a fraction of a second later - the actual lightning bolt struck 100 feet down the block, and yet you would have been killed standing on that porch.  Bottom line: STAY INSIDE!

Another 15% - 25% are killed by direct contact. This could be someone on a riding lawnmower, leaning on a metal fence, talking on a corded telephone (admittedly rare these days) or in the bathtub.

So next time you’re near a thunderstorm, don’t ask yourself what the chances are of lightning striking you. Because it doesn’t have to strike you... to kill you.

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