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Lightning facts and myths

4/23/2019 (Permalink)

Lightning can travel far outside of the storm.

An average lightning bolt has enough power to light a 100-watt bulb for more than 3 months straight.  It also has enough power to send Doc Brown and Marty McFly in a DeLorean from 1955 to 1985 (in the movie Back to the Future).

“Width of your thumb, hotter than the sun”.  The actual bolt of lightning is about the width of your thumb (or about the size of a nickel).  It looks larger because it’s shrouded in intense light.  The heat generated from a single bolt is about five times the temperature of the surface of the sun, >30,000 degrees.

Approx. 60 people are killed each year in the US from strikes.  Most of those killed and injured are participating in/attending sporting events.

There are approximately 1800 thunderstorms happening any minute of any day throughout the world, generating more than 1.4 billion lightning strikes per year.


Myth:  If I crouch, I avoid getting struck by lightning.  Although lightning does normally hit the tallest object in the area, it can jump to other objects, like from a tree to a fence.  If you are outside, you are still in danger of being struck.

Myth:  I am safe under a tall tree.  A tree may protect you from some rain, but it offers zero protection from a lightning strike.

Myth:  Lightning never strikes the same place twice.  Lightning bolts are nature’s way of trying to even out the electrons in an area, delivering positive charges to a negatively-charged object.  But, that doesn’t mean once a bolt hits it will not hit again.  Buildings, mountains, and other tall objects may be struck many times in a single year.

Myth:  It’s not raining, so I’m safe from lightning.  A bolt can travel many miles outside of a thunderstorm, so just because it’s not raining yet does not mean you are safe from being struck.

Myth:  If I remove metal (watch, jewelry, etc), I won’t get struck by lightning.  Lightning is NOT attracted to metal, so having no metal around you does not make you any safer.

Myth:  Rubber tires on a car protects you from lightning strikes.  A car is a safe place to go if you cannot get inside before a thunderstorm, but not because of the tires.  The metal body around you is the answer.  It gives the bolt an avenue towards the ground that protects you.  If you happened to be touching metal when a strike hits your car, you will be hit as well.  Also, rubber tires will not protect motorcycle riders either; they are just as susceptible to be hit as if they were standing outside.

Myth:  I saw a person get struck by lightning.  I cannot touch him for fear I will be electrocuted as well.  The human body cannot hold electrical charges, so a person struck is safe to touch.  Help them as quickly as you safely can.


Myth:  I am 100% safe inside a home.  Being inside a building is the safest place to be during a thunderstorm, but there are still ways you can get hit.  Being in a shower or bath is one; the bolt hitting your house can travel through the water pipes and find its way to you.  If you are on a corded phone or video game, the lightning can travel through the wiring and get to you.  And stay away from windows as well, as lightning going down siding may jump through a crack around the window and hit you.

Myth:  I have surge protectors on all my electronics, so they are safe.  Surge protectors are great for a minor sudden surge in electricity, but are no match for the power of a lightning bolt.  It’s best to unplug such devices before the storm comes into your area.

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