Where Lightning Strikes More Than Twice

June 21, 2010 By Emilie Lorditch, Inside Science News Service
When lightning strokes, the results can be fatal. The map at the bottom of this image displays the number of lightning-related deaths by state from 2000-2009. Credit: Top Image: NOAA | Bottom Map: Vaisala Inc.

Lightning is one of Mother Nature's double-edged swords; it is beautiful to watch as it lights up the sky, but it is dangerous when it hits the ground at a scorching 50,000 degrees F and brings with it a jolt of 100 million electric volts.

Lightning comes in various types, but the most hazardous strikes are from cloud-to-ground , according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, owned and operated by Vaisala Inc. and based in Helsinki, Finland, monitors cloud-to-ground lightning activity across the U.S. Vaisala has just released their latest data on lightning strikes from 1996-2008 and lightning deaths from 1999-2008.

There are states that seem to attract lightning such as Florida, which averages the most flashes per year with 1.4 million and states that seem to repel lightning like Rhode Island, which averages just over 2,000 flashes in a year.

Comparing the lightning strike data to lightning fatality data, it would make sense that states with the highest number of lightning strikes would also be the states with the highest number of lightning deaths.

"No, it doesn’t work that way," said Ron Holle, a for Vaisala. "For example, Florida had the highest number of lightning fatalities, with 70, and was also ranked number one with the highest number of measured cloud-to-ground flashes, but the state with the second highest number of deaths from lightning strikes is Colorado, with 28, but it ranks much lower on the list of lightning strikes at 31 with just over 500,000 flashes per year."

While none of the 50 states or the District of Columbia have been free from lightning strikes, over the last nine years Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon and the District of Columbia have not had a single death caused by lightning.

So which state has the least lightning and the least deaths?

"Oregon, any town along the Oregon coastline," said Martin A. Uman, an electrical engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and co-director of the Lightning Research Group and the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing.

Even in the states with no lightning deaths, the fact that every state has lightning strikes puts the public at risk. This week, June 20-26, is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week sponsored by NOAA. According to NOAA, five people have died from U.S. lightning strikes so far this year.

"Lightning safety is an individual responsibility and you are the only one who can keep yourself from being injured," said Mary Ann Cooper, a retired professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is also an expert in how lightning affects the body. "The vast majority of the people who were killed [by lightning strikes] last year were within fifty feet of a safe location such as their own home, but chose to stay outside a little longer."

Her advice? "Almost all lightning injuries can be avoided by following 'when thunder roars, go indoors,'" said Cooper.

Explore further: NASA lightning research highlights safety awareness week

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1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
That's the worst chart ever! Texas is ranked number one... even though Rhode Island, with .3% the area of Texas, still has 15% of the fatalities in relation to Texas. If Rhode Island increased its size and maintained its lethality, there would be about 1008 deaths!
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
I'm also curious how the The U.S. National Lightning Detection Network is owned and operated out of Helsinki, Finland.

1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
That's the worst chart ever! Texas is ranked number one... even though Rhode Island, with .3% the area of Texas, still has 15% of the fatalities in relation to Texas. If Rhode Island increased its size and maintained its lethality, there would be about 1008 deaths!

Part of the reason why you're incorrect would have to do with how densely populated the areas are.

Texas is a huge landmass with 79.6 people per square mile. Rhode Island is a small landmass with 1003.2 people per square mile. It serves to reason that while Texas receives more lightning due to it's size, the chances of a person being struck by that lightning is far, far lower.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2010
It's believed, the trees evaporating terpenes trough their leaves are more prone to lightning strikes. These terpenes undergo oxidation under formation of radicals, which are increasing the conductivity of air and the probability of lightning strike.

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