3
$\begingroup$

We hear about people being injured or killed, or property being damaged or destroyed, by flash floods all the time. Or by straight line winds. Or by hail. Or by tornadoes. Why not lightning?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ One reason is that a couple of centuries ago Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, which protects buildings against the effects of lightning strikes. Property damage and deaths were more common before. Especially in churches. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 8 '17 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Because getting killed by lightning is ho-hum. It sells more newspapers to report on some lunatic who has killed for some illogical reason that makes sense to only the lunatic. So the lunatics get over reported and ho-hum deaths due to gun violence, drunk drivers, railroad crossing deaths, and lightning are under-reported. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Feb 11 '17 at 5:13
6
$\begingroup$

Annually, about 51 people die from lightning strikes per year in the United States. Part of the reason is the low probability of being hit by lightning. Tornadoes, hail, and straight line winds sweep large areas, while one lightning bolt covers a rather small area, and may even be harmless if it doesn't make contact.

Think of it this way: if you were struck by lightning, a person 500 feet away may not be harmed by it, but if straight line winds cause your house to collapse, you can say with relative certainty that your neighbor will have some damage.

Another factor is the reliability of protection. Major hail can total a car. Strong straight line winds and tornadoes can collapse or remove your house. A lightning bolt will cause property damage, but you will be safe inside, provided you aren't touching metal.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Please do add a source for the 51 fatality average. Without that, tough to know if the number is a bit high or correct, but its order of magnitude is definitely quite reasonable. And so such values are comparable to tornado fatalities in a normal year (spc.noaa.gov/climo/torn/fatalmap.php), probably significantly greater than general straight-line wind, and much greater than hail. Floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are probably the only numbers greater. There are comparison graphs which would be great, but never can find in a pinch, and their source data can sometimes be unclear. $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest Feb 8 '17 at 18:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sure, I did a quick Google search for the result, Turns out that the wikipedia article it comes from is a reference from web.archive.org/web/20051029004621/http://…. $\endgroup$ – BarocliniCplusplus Feb 8 '17 at 22:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A source for more current data is lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.shtml. $\endgroup$ – BarocliniCplusplus Feb 8 '17 at 22:04
1
$\begingroup$

Unlike storms and floods, lightning strikes a single point. So the area directly affected by lightning is small in comparison. Another thing to consider is that when you see lightning, that does not mean it touched down to the ground.

However, keep in mind the fundamental way that lightning causes destruction, death, property damage, etc: wildfires. Most wildfires are caused by lightning. In the USA alone, over 10,000 lightning-caused wildfires are reported each year. And, nearly 4 million acres are burned by those fires. See the NIFC for more information. So, while it is unlikely to get struck directly by lightning, the fires that are caused by lightning cause many deaths and vast amounts of property damage, which dwarfs the damage caused by floods and storms.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.