Skip to Content

Most lightning deaths and injuries caused by ground current, not direct strike

As I was browsing today, I ran across this really interesting article on how most people are killed or injured by lightning.  Surprisingly, direct strikes only cause issues 3-5 percent of the time.  The greatest cause of problems is ground current, where lightning hits the ground and travels along the surface (especially if the ground is wet, or if it is a body of water like a lake), killing people and animals a distance away from where the lightning hit.  The second greatest is from side flash, where lightning coming down a tree or pole jumps out sideways to a person or animal standing near it but not touching it.  This means that some conventional wisdom about lightning safety is probably not accurate and some lightning safety information overemphasizes the danger of direct strikes and minimizes other sources of injury.  The only safe places to be in a lightning storm are in a well-constructed building which has metal circuits and plumbing which can serve as a conduit for the electricity or in a vehicle which can completely enclose you in metal (no convertibles!).  If you’re interested you can read the long but intriguing article by Ronald Holle and Mary Ann Cooper here.