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Lightning strikes: How common they are and how to protect yourself

(WKBN) – Severe thunderstorms have been active across much of the United States this week, including a tornado in Maryland, flash flooding in Death Valley National Park and extreme heat across the central United States. Another major story this week was a lightning strike that nearly struck the White House in Washington, DC, causing three deaths and one injury.

During the summer months, it is important to be more aware of lightning because thunderstorms can strike anywhere and at any time.

How many lightning-related deaths occur in the United States each year?

Each year in the United States, 20 to 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 300 people are struck by lightning each year in the US, and about 50 lightning-related deaths occur annually.

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 victims survive.

Despite the high survival rate, many people who survive a strike have some form of disability as a result.

United States lightning deaths by sex, 2012-2022.

What activities are most prone to lightning fatalities?

A 2020 study published by the National Lightning Safety Council found that 61% of lightning deaths from 2006-2019 occurred in recreational activities, with fishing accounting for the majority of fatalities. The second major category of lightning deaths in leisure activities comes from sporting events. Both soccer and golf contributed the most to lightning fatalities in the sports event category.

Lightning Facts/Myths

Fact: Lightning strikes can heat the air to temperatures in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, five times hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Fact: Lightning can strike you while you are inside a home, business, or car

Mythology: “Doesn’t lightning strike twice in the same place?” Everyone hears the saying. This is a myth. Lightning actually supports tall objects. The Empire State Building in New York City is struck by lightning several times a year.

Mythology: “If the storm doesn’t come straight up, I can’t be struck by lightning.” This is also a lie. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles outside of a thunderstorm. It is often called a bolt from the blue.

How can I protect myself from lightning strikes?

If you’re outside, the best way to escape lightning is to go indoors. Although 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 into the house!

If you’re stuck outside, avoid tall objects like power poles, trees, or mountain tops. These objects are more likely to be struck by lightning. If you are in a group, allow some space to prevent multiple injuries in case of lightning. Keep away from water or wet objects, which give lightning an extra path to travel down.

Remember, when a thunderstorm is near the best plan is to stay indoors until the thunderstorms have passed in your area.

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