Lightning can strike in more ways than one

July is the most active month for lightning deaths, injuries

Lightning strikes near a beach in Clearwater on July 14, 2021. (Clearwater Police Department)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The month of July is known for summertime fun outside. It’s also known as the most active month in which people are either killed or injured by lightning.

Unfortunately, lightning was the cause of death for at least two people over the holiday weekend.

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According to the National Lightning Safety Council, a 39-year-old man was struck and killed on Saturday while loading tools into a van near a mountain top in Mountain City, Georgia, marking the 17th lightning fatality in the state since 2006. The following day, a 33-year-old man was struck and killed near the beach at Masonboro Island in North Carolina, marking the 21st lightning fatality in the state since 2006.

This graph shows lightning deaths each year since 2012 through 2022 broken down by gender. There have been three so far in 2022 as of the July 4th holiday. (National Lightning Safety Council)

Not everyone who is struck by lightning is hit directly. In fact, a direct strike is not as common as others, but is potentially the most deadly. When lightning hits a body directly, current runs over the skin and through the body. The skin is often burned, but the current running through the body can cause the most damage to major functions such as the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Depending on the amount of current in the strike, some people can and have survived a direct hit, however they can experience both short and long-term impacts to the body.

Let’s talk about a ground current. Unlike a direct strike, this happens when lightning strikes an object like a pole or tree. The bulk of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground’s surface, reaching a potential victim that happens to be outside near the event. Ground current affects a larger area and causes the most lightning deaths and injuries. It also causes a great deal of livestock deaths.

Since we talked about ground current, there’s also conduction. Wires and metal surfaces provide a path for lightning to follow. This is why, when lightning is abound, it’s recommended to stay away from water faucets, showers or anything connected to an electrical outlet, as well as windows and doors. Conduction strikes are the cause for most indoor and some outdoor lightning casualties.

Water faucet. (Photo by Nithin PA from Pexels)

Side flashes and streamers are the last two ways that people can be struck. When lightning strikes something tall like a tree, some of the current from that strike can jump from that object to a person near it. This is part of the reason it’s not advised to get under a tree during a storm. Not only can the tree catch fire, but the lightning discharge that jumps to the person can cause serious injury or even death.

Video shows lightning striking truck in Hillsborough County

Streamers are not as common, but they can and have happened. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these streamers develop as the downward-moving leader lightning bolt approaches the ground. Normally only one streamer connects with the leading bolt on its way to the ground. This provides a channel for the return stroke. When lightning discharges, so do all the streamers that are in the area. If anyone is caught near the streamer it can cause injury and even death to the person. The best case scenario for anyone when it’s lightning is to stay indoors and away from windows or doors.

Florida’s Fourth Estate spoke with a father and daughter who were hit by lightning. You can find the episode in the media player below:


About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.