Facts about Lightning Strikes
Lightning strikes are common.
According to the National Weather Service, there are an average of 25 million lightning strikes are detected each year in the United States.
Of course, few of them actually hit people.
Some facts about lightning include that:
thunderstorms, which produce lightning, are most common in the early afternoon
- the peak season for lightning strikes is during the summer, with most deaths from lightning strikes occurring in June, July, and August
- lightning can strike even when a thunderstorm is five to ten miles away
- about 400 people are hit by lightning each year
- about 3 to 10 children and teens die from lightning strikes each year
Historically, lightning has killed about 55 people each year (30 year average). There have been fewer deaths in recent years though. Since 2001, the average number of deaths each year has decreased to 39.
Some recent lightning fatalities in children and teens less than 18 years of age include:
- an 8-year-old was struck by lightning in San Antonio, Texas while playing in his backyard (2013)
- a 17-year-old was struck by lightning in Downers Grove, Illinois in a park (2013)
- an 11-year-old in Ft. Myers, Florida who was on an open field during football practice
- an 16-year-old in Lakeland, Florida who was under a tree covering up his dirt bike
- a 9-year-old in Duluth, Minnesota who was at the beach sailing
- a 14-year-old in Shell Island, Florida who was at the beach
- a 13-year-old was struck by lightning in Sadsbury, Pennsylvania in an open field while bailing hay
- a 16-year-old in Post Mills, Vermont who was in a field harvesting
- a 12-year-old in Greenville, Alabama who was under a tree playing
- an 11-year-old in Burnett County, Wisconsin who was under a tree while camping when it was struck by lightning and a tree fell on her
- a 12-year-old boy scout in Utah who was running back to his campsite during a sudden thunderstorm when he was struck by lightning
- a 16-year-old in Russelville, Kentucky who was digging potatoes in a field with a shovel when she was hit by lightning
- a 15-year-old in New Hope, Alabama who was swimming in a lake when she was hit by lightning
- a 14-year-old and 16-year-old who both died after being struck by lightning in Cobb County, Georgia as they walked past a tree
- a 14 year-old in Georgia who died while sheltering under a tree outside his home during a thunderstorm
- an 8-year-old in Baton Rouge, Lousiana who was struck by lightning at a family gathering after everyone went back outside because they thought a thunderstorm had passed
The fact that getting hit by lightning is a rare event is often used by people to compare it other risks kids may face.
Sure, the odds that any of us will get hit by lightning is only about 1 in 1,000,000 each year, but that doesn't mean that you don't take precautions so that you don't get hit. If everyone went outside during a thunderstorm and stood under the tallest tree they could find, you can be sure those statistics would change.
The odds of a child or teen being stuck and killed by lightning are even lower, about 1 in 7,000,000.
Since thunder, the sound made by lightning, can be heard within about 10 miles of a lightning strike, if you can hear thunder, you are at risk of getting hit by lightning.
This is an important lesson to teach kids, who often wait too long before seeking shelter or who may even stop to look at lightning.
It is also important to teach kids to get inside to a safe building or a safe vehicle during a thunderstorm and stay there for at least 30 minutes until the thunder and lightning stops.
Kids should understand that:
- they are not safe under a tree during a thunderstorm
- the dugout at a baseball field is not a safe shelter from lightning
- an open patio, open garage, pavilion, or picnic shelter are not safe buildings during a thunderstorm
A safe shelter during a thunderstorm would include a building with walls, a roof, plumbing, and electrical wiring. Your kids should stay away from the plumbing and electrical equipment, including corded telephones, though, in case the building gets hit by lightning.
Safe vehicles include those with a hard-topped roof, including cars, trucks, and minivans.
Most lightning deaths are not in organized team sports or when kids are camping, but when people are simply outside during thunderstorms. When most people are hit by lightning, they are either outside or under a tree.
When thunder roars, go indoors!
That is the safety message of the National Weather Service and is a good simple phrase to teach kids.
National Weather Service. Lightning: What You Need to Know. Accessed July 2011.
National Weather Service. Lightning Fatalities for 2013 by State. Accessed September 2013.