Five ways you can be struck by lightning

Temperatures are rising as summer gets closer – which means more pop-up thunderstorms.

One of the most dangerous elements of a thunderstorm is lightning. It kills nearly 50 people per year on a 30-year average.

Lightning over Eagle & Phenix Lofts in Columbus, Ga. Photo: Chris Largent

This week’s weather question covers 5 ways you can be struck:

Lightning can strike any object directly, but it can also cause damage indirectly through ground current.

It can strike a tree for instance and the energy from the strike can then travel over 50 feet in and along the ground…electrocuting anything along its path. (This is a common way cows are taken out by lightning. For more details on that, click here).

Ever notice how a lightning strike has lots of jagged lines or flashes extending from it? The main strike can electrocute anything it hits…but the other legs or streamers you see can also strike you or another object…even in different locations.

Another way is through a side flash or side splash. Lightning can strike an object like a tree and then electrocute you from the strike. You would have to be within one or two feet for this particular strike. This is another reason it is NOT advised to take cover under a tree in a thunderstorm.

You can also be struck inside a building through conduction. If lightning strikes your house or a nearby powerline, it can travel through the plumbing and electric wiring…which is why you should avoid showering, talking on a corded phone, washing clothes or dishes during a thunderstorm.

This is the same way you can be struck by lightning in water…which is a great conductor of electricity. If you are swimming when there is a thunderstorm or one nearby it is particularly dangerous because you may be the tallest object in flat water as your head sicks out. Lightning can also travel through water if is strikes something else in it (like a boat).

Although most people do not die from being stuck by lightning (10% of strikes are fatal), there can still be permanent damage.

The best way to avoid being struck by lightning is to seek shelter indoors – stay away from any windows and avoid contact with anything wired (desktop computers, corded phones) and plumbing (washing dishes or clothes, showering).

If you are stuck outside when a thunderstorm rolls in, move away from tall objects like trees and run to your car (the metal roof will protect you from lightning). If no shelter or car is nearby, get away from any trees and crouch down so you are not the tallest object. It is not advised to lay down because you put yourself at a greater risk to be exposed to ground current.

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