Thursday, July 05, 2007

How many people are killed by lightning every year?

Who's asking: James Lamb, Virginia Beach, VA

James's question was more specific than this, but I've mislaid it -- James, if you remember it, leave it in the comments section.

It seems appropriate, anyway, because they had to evacuate the national Mall last night for a severe thunderstorm warning, and last week was National Lightning Safety Week. (I ask everyone who believes that the United States has God on its side to consider the theological implications of lightning striking the Mall on the 4th of July.)

The NOAA website says that 400 people a year get struck by lightning, but doesn't make it clear whether that's worldwide or nationwide. Between 1997 and 2006, 437 people in the United States died from lightning strikes. Wyoming is the most dangerous state for lightning, and no one died of lightning strikes in Alaska, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, New Hampshire or Washington state.

More frightening to me than the thought of being killed by lightning is the idea of being permanently injured by it. Electrocution can cause a horrifying basket of permanent neurological injuries: memory loss, inability to process information and store new information, inability to focus and concentrate.

You can protect yourself by going inside when you see lightning. If you hear thunder within 30 seconds of seeing a lightning strike, the storm's too close to you: take cover immediately, and NOT under a tree. Caves are okay. Buildings are best. Contrary to myth, the rubber tires on an automobile offer no insulation from lightning. Once you've taken cover, it's not safe to go out again until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder you hear.

Your lifetime risk of being struck by lightning, if you live to be 80, is one in 5,000. Better odds than the lottery, that's for sure.

Five Random Songs

"Something to Say," The Connells. I've been listening to this CD (Fun & Games) a lot over the past several days. This song starts the album, and sets the tone for a series of songs with sad lyrics set to cheerful tunes. This is one of several songs on the CD I suspect of being set in a mental hospital.

"Virginia," Gin Blossoms. The Gin Blossoms' second CD, Congratulations... I'm Sorry, disappointed some people who loved their first record (New Miserable Experience). I think it's just as good a record, but it didn't have the force of surprise that their debut did.

"Ain't No Sunshine," Bill Withers. Appropriate for this gray, rainy day. One of the first R&B songs I ever remember hearing on the radio, in my first-grade carpool in Fairfax, Virginia. The year was 1971, and this song won the Grammy for Best R&B Song.

"True Faith - ('94)," New Order. Broken hearts on the dance floor.

"That Old Sweet Roll," Dusty Springfield. From Dusty in Memphis, a song that makes me want to drink bourbon and laze around for the rest of the day. Most of the country's on vacation today, I think, and as a freelancer, I resent that.


Anonymous said...

Note on the Gin Blossoms: The band's second album wasn't as strong as their first because the original lead guitarist and principal songwriter was out of the group for "Congratulations ..."

The guy was fired for being too drunk too often, which is what most of his songs were about. He drank himself to death about a year after being fired. Sad.


Jim Winter said...

My dad was hit twice by lightning, the odds of which are supposed to be lower than winning the lottery.

Never did win the lottery.

AnswerGirl said...

I once read something -- can't remember where, probably some credible source like The Weekly World News -- that said getting struck by lightning once actually made you more likely to get struck again, because you were left as a better conductor.

That's probably a complete fiction, but isn't it a cool idea for a story?

JIM LAMB said...

If you work outside like foresters or watermen your chances of getting struck by lightning increase to almost certainty. There is nowhere to shelter. I will not go on the water or even the beach if there is lightning nearby. Mere rain doesn't bother me. As one old salt told me, "It can't hurt, there's no soap in it."

On the other hand, it can't help because there is no salt.

For the information of all the followers of Answer Girl I will resume postings on my blog, wanderingmick.

AnswerGirl said...

Glad to hear it, Dad ... I was about to take your link down for lack of activity!

Anonymous said...

Howdy Answer Girl... So this stat you provided is very strange:

"Your lifetime risk of being struck by lightning, if you live to be 80, is one in 5,000. Better odds than the lottery, that's for sure."

How did you arrive at this number? Variables did you take into accounting order to calculate this. If you are not responsible for working this out could you please post a link to where you got this? Or was this also from NOAA? I was not able to find this on their website-- Thanks guys!


No Name said...

You're right answergirl, rubber tires won't protect you, it's the metal around the car. The metal acts as a shell and it conducts the electricity, so it does not get into the car. Though it may screw with your power, you're safe! Note: Opening the door is stupid. I'll let you guess why.