The Power of Lightning

May 24, 2017 by Daphne Thompson
Topics:   WeatherOps | Lightning | Thunderstorm |

As summer approaches, so does the peak of lightning injuries and fatalities. More lightning fatalities happen in the months of June, July, and August that any other time of the year.

The reason more people are injured in the summer months is because there are many thunderstorms happening and part is because more people are outside enjoying the warmth. Last year, there were 38 reported lightning fatalities in the US. Out of this number, 12 happened in July and 13 in August. 

NOAA Lightning Fatalities 2007-2017

When thunderstorms roll in, there is no place outside that is safe from lightning. If you are caught in this situation, move indoors or into a vehicle as fast as possible. While lightning does tend to hit the tallest object first, this is not an absolute. Plus, the electricity will travel through the wet ground and cause injuries that way as well.

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The temperature of lightning can exceed 50,000°F, which is about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. This causes the air to heat up so fast that the air expands outward, causing a shock wave that is heard as thunder. When lightning strikes a tree or wooden electrical pole, the moisture inside also expands and can lead to an explosion. Check out the video below and you will realize why you don't want to be the object that is struck. 

In an intense thunderstorm, you may also hear of a house or business that burned after it was struck by lightning. Sometimes, fire departments or insurance companies need the data to prove how the fire started. Our WeatherOps Archive Lightning is the perfect tool for this. The image below shows how many strikes there were on May 17, 2017 within 10-miles of WDT's headquarters in Norman, OK. Not only do we offer a visual representation, but we can also provide the distance of the lightning to the location you choose and the approximate strength of those bolts. On this occasion, the storm total was 3,314 with the closest being .23 miles away. 

WDT Archive Lightning Data on May 17, 2017

With summer right around the corner, and a holiday weekend approaching, it's important to remember that any thunderstorm can cause injuries or fatalities. Lightning is not something you want to take your chances with because, if you are in the wrong place, you will lose.

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Daphne Thompson

Daphne is the Content Marketing Manager. Her prior experience includes working at the National Weather Center, Norman Emergency Management, and National Weather Service. With a degree in Meteorology from OU and previous outreach experience, she is able to bridge the gap between science and the general public.