WACO, Texas – Lightning strikes somewhere in the United States 25,000,000 times per year – and while the odds of being struck by lightning are slim, about a one in 15,000 chance in your lifetime, it can happen. So it’s important to know where to go and what to do if you get caught in a storm.
Lightning is a major cause of storm-related deaths in the United States.
It’s hotter than the surface of the sun – reaching temperatures around 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, the sun’s surface is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
So how is something so hot created on earth?
To put it simply, lightning needs cold air and warm air. As the warm air rises, it produces storm clouds. Inside the cloud, the cold air will have ice crystals, and the warm air will have water droplets. The crystals and the droplets will collide, and this will create positive and negative charges in the cloud.
Like a battery, these clouds will have a plus and a minus end. The cloud top will be the plus and the bottom will be the minus. When the charge at the bottom of the cloud gets strong enough, the cloud will let out energy. The negative charge will meet a positive charge leader in another cloud or on the ground.
Positive charges on the ground can consist of a number of things, ranging from trees to homes, to The Statue of Liberty, and even to people.
“We have a great saying at the NWS. When thunder roars, go indoors. It makes sense because there is literally no safe place outdoors. You either need to be indoors or inside a metal-topped automobile,” says Jason Laney, a News Warning Coordination Meteorologist.
Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 43 lightning deaths per year. Most occur when people are outside, so the best way to stay safe is to be indoors. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
The safest thing to do is move inside a sturdy building and stay away from windows. If that’s not available to you, a hard-top automobile is another safe bet.
If you are swimming, get out of the water and wait at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to go back outside.
For more information on lightning, you can click here.