What Are the Odds of Being Struck by Lightning in the US?

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ODDS OF BEING STRUCK IN A YEAR
AVERAGE LIGHTNING FLASHES/YEAR
IF IT WAS POSSIBLE A $5 BET WOULD WIN

Did You Know These Shocking Facts About Lightning?

Walking vs Inside a Vehicle

The odds of being struck by lightning walking anywhere in the United States in any given year is about 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck by lightning in your entire lifetime is 1 in 3,000.

This means that it is far more likely to be struck by lightning while out in the open than in a car or in a building.

Is a Car Actually Safer Than Walking?

According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, a fully enclosed metal box is a safe place to be when lightning strikes.

However, when a window or door of a car is open, it is no longer a closed system. This means the risk of getting struck increases.

It is recommended, when you are in the presence of lightning and in a car, to pull over to the side of the road, turn off the engine, and place your hands in your lap. Touching any of the components in a car while it is being struck, such as door handles, steering wheels, gear shifters, etc., can result in life-threatening injury.

Inside vs Outside: The Odds

Experts actually recommend hiding in a building if you happen to catch yourself outside during a storm. It is highly unlikely that injury will occur if inside a building during a storm.

While inside a building, the odds of being struck by lightning decrease; however, it is recommended that you stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity, especially landline telephones.

Examples of Lightning Strikes

Male vs Female

According to a study from 2012, over 80% of people killed from being struck by lightning were male. This overwhelming disparity becomes even more peculiar when NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) studied it a little further.

The study showed that over 52% of women, who were struck by lightning which resulted in death, were struck during routine activity such as grocery shopping or driving to and from work.

The odds of becoming a lightning victim for men, by comparison, are more likely to get struck by lightning during leisure activities, such as hiking, climbing, or fishing. The most dangerous activity for men when it comes to being struck by lightning is fishing.

The Bottom Gender Line

The study’s leader, Lightning Safety Specialist John Jensenius, claims that this disparity can be explained by the seclusion involved in such outdoor activities. For example, it takes more time getting to safety when fishing outdoors than in a populated area.

While these disparities seem drastic, it’s important to remember that lightning is just as dangerous to men as it is to women, although men tend to find themselves in less advantageous places when storms strike.

The odds of getting struck by lightning are in the favor of females, as men make up almost 80% of the 292 people killed by lightning between 2009 and 2019.

Chart Listing Male and Female Deaths from Lightning

Fatalities vs Injuries

Fatalities: The Odds

Getting struck by lightning is no joke. A direct blow from a bolt of lightning can result in cardiac arrest on impact or irreversible brain damage.

The good news is that, on average, only about 10% of lightning strike victims end up dying from it. About 90% of those struck by lightning will survive, some with very serious injuries.

The average number of deaths reported each year is about 27, while there are about 270 people struck by lightning in any given year in the United States alone, leaving about 243 injuries per year.

Injuries: The Odds

When getting struck by lightning, chances are, you will have some serious injuries that require hospitalization and professional medical attention.

While a very small percentage of lightning strike victims cases end up in fatalities, it is important to remember that getting struck by lightning is extremely damaging and can even be life-changing. Some injuries include blowing out eardrums, long-term brain damage, and nerve damage, to name a few.

The power in a single bolt of lightning is enough to fry your clothing and your insides. Experts recommend avoiding getting hit by lightning at all costs. Take every precaution necessary to ensure you and your family’s safety. The mental damage from being struck can often be as difficult as the physical.

Survivors of lightning strikes often describe the feelings as unusual and weird as being in “a bubble of light.”

White Pie Chart Graphic

Lightning Scars

When Lightning Strikes

Lightning strikes carry massive amounts of electricity and can be fatal. Survivors often share their stories and their scars which are often referred to as fractals and represent a strange pattern that resembles the strike itself.

These patterns are peculiar and are believed to offer some understanding into the effects and patterns of positive and negative electrical discharges during storm systems at the root of lightning strikes all over the world.

Lichtenberg Figures

These fractal patterns are referred to as “Lichtenberg figures” and show the branching of electric discharges that usually appear on the surface or interior of most material, including your skin!

Named after the German physicist, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who first discovered and studied these patterns, they have been widely revered as helping in the understanding of positive and negative electric discharges.

These discharges can leave some gnarly scars that resemble fern leaves more than lightning passing through the sky.

Lightning Scars and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Chances of Getting Struck by Lightning

Lightning strikes are far more likely than many other occurrences from car wrecks to shark attacks. Here are a few facts about the odds of getting struck by lightning.

Less Likely

  • You have a better chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000) than you do of winning the Lottery (1 in 1.9 million).
  • The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000) are less likely than getting attacked by a shark (1 in 3.7 million).
  • It’s more plausible to be struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000) than to die in a plane crash (1 in 11 million).

More Likely

  • You are more likely to get audited by the IRS (1 in 175) than get struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000).
  • You are more likely to catch a foul ball at a baseball game (1 in 563) than get struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000).
  • You are more likely to have a book on the New York Times Bestseller list (1 in 220) than you do of being hit by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000)

The Lightning Legend of Roy Sullivan

Roy Sullivan holds the world record for most lightning strikes survived. The Shenandoah National Park ranger earned several nicknames because of it, including “Spark Ranger” and “Human Lightning Rod,” among others.

Strike 1: April 1942

Sullivan was in the park fire tower when it was struck several times by lightning. According to him, it left a scar down his right leg and took off his big toe.

Strike 2: 1969

Sullivan’s park truck was struck between two large trees, having his windows down increased the risk. Reportedly, Sullivan lost consciousness immediately.

Strike 3: 1970

While off duty and gardening outside at home, a lightning strike from a transformer knocked him clean over and left slight burns on his shoulder.

Strike 4: 1971

While registering campers, Sullivan was suddenly struck by lightning, to which the crowd reported it set his hair on fire.

Strike 5: August 1973

Another incident occurred in his truck while on patrol in the park. This one supposedly knocked off one of his shoes. It was found with the laces still tied.

Strike 6: 1976

While patrolling a trail on foot, Sullivan was struck for the sixth time. This was the final lightning strike as a park employee, he retired five months later.

Strike 7: June 1977

This time, while trout fishing, Sullivan was struck for the seventh time. He reportedly felt his arms bristle as his chest and head were severely burned.

The Science Behind Lightning

Lightning Strike Survivors: Their Testimonials

Angela

Missy

Jesse

Angela:

I have been hit three times. I received a direct strike through a window as I was walking through my living room while in Oak Ridge, TN, in 1995. The lightning went on to hit the TV and melt the circuit board. I was hit in the stomach and received a burn on my right arm and blew a hole in my shirt sleeve. I had severe neuropathy [tingling or pain] the instant that I was hit that never went away completely, though after a few months, it wasn’t quite as severe.

In Flagstaff, AZ, in 2005, I was hit while on a landline telephone. Ruptured ear drum and severe head pain.

In August 2007, I got hit in my right hearing aid. I heard a static electricity sound in my right hearing aid and got severe stabbing pain where the hearing aid touches the skull behind the ear. Lightning had just struck in the woods in front of my place while I was out on the porch just seconds before I experienced the hit to the hearing aid. From that, I had temporary pain behind the ear, tinnitus, and it has flared the PTSD.

I now have severe neuropathy, chronic pain, digestive problems, aphasia, aphraxia, frontal lobe damage, PTSD, and short-term memory loss, which has been diagnosed by a neuropsychologist.

Missy:

I was struck by lightning about 12 years ago. No one ever told me you weren’t supposed to be on a landline telephone during an electrical storm. So, there I was, calling in a carryout pizza order, when I noticed that the lightning and thunder was getting more intense and coming more frequently. I heard static on the phone line, which kept getting louder and louder. Then, I heard what sounded like a loud explosion, and at the same time, I notice a bright white light at my feet, which was football-shaped and had spikes. It blew me across the floor, and I was knocked out for a few seconds.

My son came running into the kitchen to find me laying there on the floor. When I started to get a numbing feeling on one side of my body, starting at the toes, and working upward, he called 911. After spending several hours in the emergency room, they confirmed that I had been hit by lightning through the phone lines.

After the strike, I notice a strange side effect. It’s almost as if I get Extrasensory Perception (ESP), every once in a while. There have been times where I speak someone’s name, someone that I haven’t been heard from or seen in MANY years and all of a sudden, they walk in the door. Or the time I KNEW my plumbing was going to back up in the laundry room. And sure enough, that night, it happened. I’ve had eerie feelings about things just before they actually happen. I’ve actually created a list (somewhere in my house) of these incidents because I couldn’t believe it myself! Most people that know me are amazed. And so am I. This periodic thing only started AFTER my lightning incident.

Jesse:

In 1977, while living in Brandon, Mississippi, I was in the garage of my home working on a riding lawnmower chassis. I was using my electric drill at the time. My wife saw what I was doing and advised me that the lightning storm outside was getting pretty bad and that I should wait until it was over to continue. I chose to ignore her and told her that I was in no danger.

Seconds later, lightning struck the power transformer on the power line pole outside my home. The surge followed the wires and ultimately the power drill I was holding. The jolt stiffened my muscles in such a manner that I was thrown from one end of the garage to the other. The only damage was to my ego in knowing that my wife was absolutely right!