Lightning Odds, Facts and Statistics

Lightning is one of Mother nature’s offerings that captures everyone’s attention because there’s just the right mix of fear and curiosity which draws folks to the show. Moreover, the amounts of ozone and nitrogen oxides created by lightning surpass those generated by human activities in that level of the atmosphere (source: NASA)!

Below is a comprehensive list of lightning facts and statistics. Everything listed on this page has been verified with valid sources, such as NOAA, NASA, The National Weather Service (NWS), and medical professionals.

Although some of the tid-bits mentioned here may seem far-fetched, they are in fact all true! Including the hard to believe life of Roy Sullivan who was struck by lightning a total of 7 times throughout his life!

Lightning Odds

  • The odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. in any single year is 1 in 700,000.
  • The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 5,000.
  • Using an umbrella in a thunderstorm slightly increases your odds of being struck.
  • If your hair stands on end during a storm, that’s a bad sign. It means positive charge is building up around you and your chances of being struck are extremely high.

Lightning Science

  • A single lightning bolt is about 50,000°F or 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • A lightning bolt is anywhere from 1,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 volts and between 10,000 and 200,000 amps. Or about 215 kWh (kilowatt hours).
  • There are two types of lightning; negative strikes and positive strikes. Positive strikes are 5 times more powerful than negative strikes and positive charge flows instead of negative.
  • The average lightning bolt could light a 100 watt light bulb non-stop for about 3 months.
  • The average lightning bolt is 6 miles long, although Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center has indicated some as long as 75 miles.
  • The thickness of a lightning bolt is about the size of a silver dollar. It only looks bigger because it is so bright.
  • A lightning bolt is made of a series of strokes from about 3 to 20, with an average of about four. The duration of each lightning bolt can vary, but typically average about 30 microseconds.
  • The US Department of Energy says the speed of lightning is 93,000 miles per second, although the light produced travels at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second).

Lightning Statistics

  • In this order Florida, Texas and North Carolina are the top 3 states for lightning induced deaths.
  • In this order Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the top 3 states for lightning injuries.
  • About 10% of those unfortunate enough to be struck by lightning die. From 1959 to 2003 a total of 3,696 people have been killed by lightning.
  • Around the world there are about 8 million lightning strikes each day.
  • Each year, an average 22 million cloud to ground lightning flashes hit the United States and surrounding coastal waters.
  • An estimated 307,000 lightning insurance claims are filed each year in the United States. That’s about 1 claim for every 57 Cloud to Ground lightning strikes. It is also estimated lightning causes about $400,000,000 in damages each year in the United States.
  • There are about 10,000 forest fires started by lightning each year.
  • Lightning kills more people that tornadoes and hurricanes combined. It is the single most dangerous thing produced by a thunderstorm.
  • Approximately 494,000 cloud to ground lightning strikes occur in Colorado each year. Colorado ranks 26th in the nation.
  • Lightning strikes 40–50 times a second worldwide, for a total of nearly 1.4 billion flashes per year.
  • Florida has the highest lightning strike density of anywhere in the U.S. (about 12 strikes for every square mile per year).
  • The small village of Kifuka in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo receives the most lightning strikes of anywhere on Earth. On average this region receives 158 lightning strikes per 1 square kilometer (0.39 sq mi) per year.

Lightning Oddities

  • Many survivors of lightning strikes report that right before being struck their hair was standing on end and they had a metallic taste in their mouth.
  • Lightning causes objects to explode because it instantly turns any water to steam. This includes concrete, trees, asphalt and clothes. It’s been known to blow the clothes off people due to the sweat/water instantly vaporizing creating a steam explosion.
  • About 1% of all lightning deaths in the U.S. are a result of people talking on a corded phone during a thunderstorm.
  • The U.S. Agricultural Department estimates 80% of accidental livestock deaths are a result of lightning strikes.
  • The irrational fear of lightning is known as keraunophobia. The fear of thunder is termed brontophobia.
  • Park Ranger Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning 7 times between 1942 and 1977.

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