Lightning Statistics


Most communities host citizen operated weather watch groups to help warn of impending or current severe weather.

Skywarn. Skywarn is an organization of trained volunteers who report severe weather events to the National Weather Service. The NWS uses the input from spotters to help them issue more accurate public watches and warnings. Although the weather service uses radar to watch the skies, radar can only see in a straight line, and the earth's curvature causes a blind space to occur the farther away from the radar's location that you get. Therefore, storm spotters can see what the radar cannot see or can confirm radar-indicated events. Any willing individual can become a Skywarn storm spotter (Skywarn).

Amateur Radio. Amateur radio operators, often called Hams, are especially useful as they conduct coordinated operations during times of severe weather. Many are also members of SKYWARN. Most communities have one or more local amateur radio (ham) clubs that organize radio operators for public service communications functions. Amateur radio offers versatile and extended range communication abilities. Classes are available for earning your operator's license. Non-hams may also find the amateur radio frequencies interesting and informative to listen to.

NOAA Weather Radio. NWR is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information direct from a nearby National Weather Service office as a public service by the NOAA. Warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazards are broadcast 24 hours a day. A weather radio provides an inexpensive, convenient way to monitor local weather. (National Weather Service)


Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the rain of a thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately. (NLSI)

On their website, The National Lightning Safety Institute offers safety guidelines that will help you avoid the vast majority of lightning casualties. Remember, no place outside is safe during thunderstorms.

  • Watch the weather forecast and plan outside activities around the weather to avoid lightning hazards.
  • If you are going to be outside anyway, use the 30-30 Rule to know when to seek proper shelter. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, seek proper shelter. Also, keep watch on the skies for thunderstorm clues: increasing and darkening clouds, increasing rain and/or wind.
  • Do not hesitate. Seek shelter immediately. The best safe shelter is a large, fully enclosed substantially constructed building such a typical house, school, library, or public building. Substantially constructed means it has wiring and plumbing in the walls.

    Once inside, stay off the telephone, stay away from electrical appliances, lightning, and electrical sockets. Stay away from plumbing. Do not watch lightning from windows and doorways. Inner rooms are a safer place to wait out a storm.

    If you cannot get to a substantial building, a good second choice is a vehicle with a solid metal roof and metal sides. Close the windows, lean away from the door, put your hands in your lap, and do not touch the steering wheel, ignition, shifter, or radio. Remember, convertibles, cars with fiberglass or plastic shells, and open framed vehicles do not count as lightning shelters.

    Myth: Cars are safe because the rubber tires insulate them from the ground.

    Truth: Cars are safe because of their metal shell.
  • If you cannot get to proper shelter, then avoid the most dangerous locations.
    • Avoid higher elevations.
    • Avoid wide-open areas such as sports fields and beaches.
    • Avoid water activities such as boating, swimming, and fishing.
    • Avoid golfing.
    • Avoid open vehicles such as farm tractors, open construction vehicles, riding
    • Lawnmowers, and golf carts with or without roofs.
    • Avoid unprotected open buildings such as picnic pavilions, rain shelters, and bus stops.
    • Avoid metal fences and metal bleachers.
    • Do not go under trees.
  • The lightning crouch is a desperate last resort position to be used when lightning is imminent and gives very few seconds of warning. Put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head, and cover your ears. When the imminent danger has passed, continue heading to the safest spot. You are much safer not getting into such a high-risk situation.

    If you are in a large group, spread out. If one person is struck, the others may not be and can give first aid.
  • Emergency Care.
    • Call 911
    • All deaths from lightning are from cardiac arrest and stopped breathing at the time of the strike. CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation are the recommended first aid.
    • If you are still in an active thunderstorm and at continuing risk to yourself, consider moving the victim and yourself to a safer location. (National Lightning Safety Institute)


Lightning strikes that do not result in death often result in long-term injuries. Death and Injuries. Obviously, the most serious result of a lightning strike is death. Some victims die of secondary causes including hemorrhages and multiple lesions. Some resuscitated victims suffer a delayed death a few days later due to brain damage. However, many victims survive only to sustain long-term injuries impacting not only their own lives but also the lives of family members. NOAA further explains that some victims become embarrassed when they cannot function normally as before. Not being able to carry on a conversation, work at their previous job, or do activities they used to handle cause these victims to isolate themselves. Family, friends, and co-workers who notice the different survivor may exacerbate the isolation problem by not coming around anymore. Families may even break up. Depression can become a major problem and even suicide may result. Also, alcohol and drugs may become a problem for the victim who doesn't understand what is happening. This is more likely a problem if that person previously used these substances. Consequently, it is very important for family and friends of the survivor to remain supportive although this may be difficult and involves relationship adjustments (NWS). The following list of injuries from the website of The Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc., consists of common symptoms of lightning strike and electric shock that survivors may experience.

  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Long Term Memory Loss
  • Short Term Memory Loss
  • Irritability
  • Severe Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Loss of Motor Skills
  • Depression
  • Cognitive Thinking Impairment
  • Radical Personality Changes
  • Inability to Sit Long Periods
  • Ticks or Uncontrollable Muscular Movement
  • Stiffness in Joints
  • Abstract or Indefinable Pain
  • Anxiety of Panic Attacks
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Diminished Sex Drive

(The Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc.)

Understand the dangers of lightning. When you hear thunder, you are in lighting strike range. Seek shelter.


Lightning strike casualties can hit close to home. You or your family members are not exempt from lightning disaster. Rev. David Harris, pastor of Mims UMC, shared an experience from his congregation. "Actually, we have a member of our church whose grandson was struck by lightning. He is slowly recovering, and although most of his motor skills have returned, and he is getting good grades, he has had some extensive emotional damage. He is more comfortable playing with elementary age kids than with his teenage peer group. There have been some profound changes in his life" (Harris).

In the following two case studies documented on, the National Lightning Safety Institute describes horrific mass human casualties caused by lightning.

Case Study A: "On Saturday, July 10, 1926 a violent thunder and lightning storm struck the Navy Ammunition Depot near Mount Hope, NJ. Three major explosions from millions of pounds of TNT obliterated nearby buildings. Shells landed a mile away. Glass was broken three miles away by the acoustic shock wave. Smoke could be seen in New York, some 40 miles away. Nineteen people died - thirty-eight were wounded. Congress appropriated $2.3 million to rebuild the site in 1927" (NLSI).

Case Study B: "The giant airship Hindenburg, 803 feet long, arrived at Lakehurst NJ on May 6, 1937. The crew dropped two 400-foot-long mooring lines onto the wet sand below. The wet ropes served as conductors, bringing the ground potential gradient up to the ship. A hydrogen leak at Cell 4 or 5, combining with air, was ignited by the brush discharge. Ninety seven passengers and crew perished" (NLSI).

Although these particular disasters did not occur in Florida, they could have. Humans are no match for lightning and must exercise all available caution against a strike.


Lightning does not always strike people. The power of lightning can inflict extensive property damage causing great expense, inconvenience, and threat to life and safety. Three common types of property damage in Florida involve that to boats, land and buildings, and electronic equipment. Boats. Boating is a popular activity in Florida. Remember, being on a boat in a thunderstorm is one of the best places to be if you want to be struck by lightning.

Moreover, if the boat is of the larger vessel kind and hit by lightning, expensive property damage may also ruin the day. Ewen Thomson at The University of Florida's lightning research department gives further insight into these risks. Their boat protection principles caution that trying to save money by not installing a protection system could very well cost much more in boat equipment loss. Reluctance to do so is partly due to a complacent attitude towards the danger of lightning and the fact that protection systems are not required. Perhaps a reminder of the risks would renew interest in a protection system for the expensive yacht. Mr. Thomson states that the risks include:

  • possible crew electrocution
  • a sinking boat
  • destroyed electronics
  • exploding bulkheads
  • litigation risks if someone is hurt

The report also points out that the danger of a direct strike peaks in the Southeast. Again, Florida wins the most dangerous location award. Another interesting note is that a typical yacht cruiser can expect to be struck at least once in its lifetime (Thomson).

Land and Buildings. In 1998, Florida experienced devastating and widespread wildfires. Drought conditions in the middle of peak thunderstorm season offered up dangerously dry land easily ignitable by the abundant lightning. Many stretches of highway and even parts of Interstate 95 were closed. Evacuations were common. Firefighters were called in from all parts of the country to assist our own force, which was stretched thin. National Guard units were stationed at staging areas to assist in logistics. Many church and civic organizations activated response posts at the staging areas to provide food, drinks, and first aid care. Many churches also opened their doors as feeding centers for the firefighters and other disaster relief volunteers. Surprisingly, even a friend of mine from Texas called asking if the whole state was on fire.

Many homes and businesses were destroyed and damaged from the fires. Many structures barely escaped the flames as firebreaks and chemicals stopped the fires just feet from the structures.

A CNN news report during the peak of the fire disasters of July of 1998, posted on, reported, "Across Florida, 2,058 fires have erupted since June 1, burning a total of 483,261 acres (755 square miles) and damaging or destroying more than 300 homes and businesses. Forty-four states have sent almost 7,000 firefighters and 3,000 support personnel to Florida to help battle the blazes" (CNN).

The report also furnished these startling facts of the time:
Acreage Burned 483,261
Buildings Affected 301
Damages $276 million
Firefighting Costs $116 million
Equipment. Roger Cox is a retired electrical engineer who often volunteers in disaster response operations. Sharing insight into equipment damage, Roger says, "Lightning effects on electrical and electronic equipment result from surges induced into the AC power lines and not from the result of a direct strike by lightning. This is why so many people use surge suppressers/arresters in front of their computer equipment and the phone lines going into them. All emergency communications equipment should have protection devices on the AC power lines and on the phone lines if they are in a base station. Radio antennas may also need protection devices. Mobile equipment is isolated from the AC power lines so that would not be required. Any computer equipment in base stations needed for the disaster response should also be protected" (Cox).


According to lightning facts found on, LynScan, Inc., a lightning research firm, tells us that NASA no longer considers Florida the lightning capital of the world. Florida now ranks only as lightning capital of the U.S. The central African nation of Rwanda receives twice as much lightning as Florida (LynScan, Inc.) However, this quite impressive rank still warrants our utmost attention.

Living in the state ranking as the U.S. lightning leader, we must give our utmost attention to this phenomenon. For instance, a weather story reports, "Thunderstorms produce more than a million lightning strikes a year." Focusing on the horrendous Florida wildfires of 1998, the same report also tells us the authorities at the time reported, "Ninety percent of the recent wildfires have been started by lightning." Moreover, the article states that "bolts from the sky kill an average of 10 people each year," reiterating the above statistics by the NOAA (CNN).


If you would personally like to find lightning, go golfing in Florida around four p.m. on a Sunday afternoon in July. According to NASA, "Most lightning casualties occur in the afternoon-two-thirds between noon and 4 p.m….Sunday has 24% more deaths than other days, followed by Wednesday. Lightning reports reach their peak in July" (NASA). The greatest numbers of deaths and injuries occur during the summer months because of the combination of lightning and outdoor activities. Many victims report having been walking in an open field, swimming, or holding metal objects like golf clubs, umbrellas, and fishing rods. However, you need not be holding an object to be struck by lightning (NASA). Where. Most of us fall into the category of enjoying outdoor activities during the summer. Therefore, most of us fall into the category of being in a possible lightning strike zone when conditions are right. The six most common dangerous activities associated with lightning strikes, according to LynScan, Inc., are:

  • Work or play in open fields.
  • Boating, fishing, and swimming.
  • Working on heavy farm or road equipment.
  • Playing golf.
  • Talking on the telephone. (LynScan, Inc.)

Understand the dangers of lightning. When you hear thunder, you are in lighting strike range. Seek shelter.


Beginning in June and extending through the summer, lightning flashes dominate Florida weather. Thunderstorm Ingredients. The National Weather Service still cannot forecast the location or time of the cloud conditions needed to produce lightning. However, the NWS is continually gaining a better understanding of the process that produces lightning. In information found on, the NWS states, "A thunderstorm forms in air that has three components: moisture, instability, and … a cold front to cause the air to rise" (NWS). The storm may rise to heights of 35,000 to 60,000 feet. At these heights, temperatures are colder and ice forms in the higher parts of the cloud.

The NWS also provides an easy explanation of the thunderstorm development process. Ice in a cloud is a key element in the development of lightning. Various sizes of ice particles collide in the motions of the storm. These collisions then cause the electrical charges to separate. The positive charges move to the top of the storm, and the negative charges to the bottom. In addition, as the storm travels along, it gathers more positively charged particles from objects on the ground. This process causes positively charged particles to rise up taller objects such as trees, houses, poles, and even people. For instance, have you ever been in a storm and had your hair stand up? This is a warning sign. You are in the wrong place and may be a lightning target (NWS).

30-30 Rule. There are two easy methods that help to determine how far away the lightning is from you. One method, suggested by The National Lightning Safety Institute, at, is the 30-30 Rule. "Use the 30-30 rule where visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, seek shelter immediately. Also, the threat of lightning continues for much longer period than most people realize. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash before leaving shelter. Don't be fooled by sunshine or blue sky" (NLSI) Flash to Bang Method. David O. Stillings offers an alternative method of determining the distance between lightning and you. On his website, Stilling says, "Remember the Flash to Bang method to estimate lightning from your location - If you see lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five (5) to get the distance the lightning is away from you. Example: If you see lightning and it takes 10 seconds before you hear the thunder, then the lightning is 2 miles away from you (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles)" (Stilling).