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What Are The Odds Of Being Hit By Lightning?

Feb 16, 2012
Close Lightning Strike - Genesee, Wisconsin - July  28, 2002Lightning kills, yet have you ever wondered what the odds of being struck? It's higher than you think. Most people assume tornadoes and hurricanes are more of a threat, but lightning is more deadly. I'll explain my close encounters with lightning, and how you can beat odds.

Personally, I've been nearly struck by lightning twice. My first experience was at Banting Elementary School in Waukesha, Wisconsin back in 1990. I was attending a baseball camp when I was a young kid at the age of 10. A thunderstorm had been approaching from the west, and the coach ordered the entire team of little league players to take cover under a wood picnic shelter. We all waited for the storm to pass, and the next thing I remember was experiencing a bright, blinding flash and a horrible loud boom. I jumped away from the bright light and held my hands over my ears. Lightning had struck a telephone pole about 15 feet from the group. The coach said he felt his hair stand on end just before the strike. No one was hurt, but we were all very startled. Thankfully, the lightning current traveled directly into the ground and didn't spread out to where we were all standing. If that had occurred some of us would have been badly injured. Lightning - Pewaukee, Wisconsin - May 2003

The second incident was somewhat of an unusual occurrence. I was driving home from work back in 1998. A bolt of lightning hit a tree, 15-20 feet next to me, as I had my arm resting outside the driver's side window. It was a surprise since the actual thunderstorm was about 10 miles away and rain wasn't falling at the time. This type of lightning is called the bolt from the blue. It surprises many people because they assume the storm is simply too far away to be a threat. Fortunately, bolts from the blue are rare, but I have seen them occur from time to time. If you do get hit by one, these bolts usually have higher amperage, which you are more likely to be killed.Lightning Strike - Waukesha, Wisconsin - October 2006

The Odds?

The odds of being struck by lightning is based on many different factors. Is the storm producing copious amounts of cloud to ground lightning? Are you safely indoors or outside? According the NWS, you have anywhere from a 1/6250 chance of being hit in your lifetime by lightning. Gender also plays a role. Men have a higher chance of being hit due to outside working trades (construction), golfing and other outside sports.


Here is video I shot of a close lightning strike near my car in Delafield, Wisconsin. The bolt was about 50 - 100 yards away. To the right, is a lightning strike I captured behind a set of transmission electrical towers in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Your geographic location is another factor that determines your risk. Florida leads the U.S. in lightning deaths and injuries. The sunshine state experiences thunderstorms daily during the summer months with many storms producing cloud to ground lighting. Florida is a tourist attraction with many people outside golfing, at the beach, and visiting amusement parks. More people outside, more thunderstorms enhances the odds of being hit during the prime lightning season. Compare this to living in Seattle, Washington your odds of being hit by lighting are much lower where they only experience thunderstorms once or twice a year.Close Lightning Strike - Dousman, Wisconsin - June 7, 2008

30|30 Rule

You can prevent from becoming a victim of a lightning strike and beat the odds! The National Weather Service has provided a simple rule for citizens known as the 30|30 rule. It states the following:

  • If you see lightning and it takes less than 30 seconds to hear thunder, you are at risk of being in danger.

  • If a storm is passing by and you would want to go back outside, wait 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder before going back outdoors.

Education and Awareness

The death toll from lightning continues to decline. In 2011, 26 people were killed by lightning making it the fewest deaths on record. This is a good trend since education and awareness has helped. Even with the death toll declining many people continue to be struck by lightning and survive. Unfortunately, they are left with permanent nerve damage and health complications for the remainder of their lives. Stay safe!


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