A lightning strike is a lightning event in which the electric discharge takes place between the atmosphere and the ground. Most originate in a cumulonimbus cloud and terminate on the ground, called cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning. A less common type of strike, ground-to-cloud (GC) lightning, is upward-propagating lightning initiated from a tall, grounded object and reaching into the clouds. About 25% of all lightning events worldwide are strikes between the atmosphere and earth-bound objects. Most are intra-cloud (IC) lightning and cloud-to-cloud (CC), where discharges only occur high in the atmosphere Lightning strikes the average commercial aircraft at least once a year, but modern engineering and design means this is rarely a problem.
The movement of aircraft through clouds can even cause lightning strikes. Warning signs of an impending strike nearby can include a crackling sound, sensations of static electricity in the hair or skin, the pungent smell of ozone, or the appearance of a blue haze around persons or objects. People caught in such extreme situations – without having been able to flee to a safer, fully enclosed space – are advised to assume the “lightning position”, which involves “sitting or crouching with knees and feet close together to create only one point of contact with the ground” (with the feet off the ground if sitting; if a standing position is needed, the feet must be touching).
According to National Geographic, about 2,000 people are killed annually worldwide by lightning. If all eight billion humans have an equal chance of being killed over a 70-year lifespan, this gives a lifetime probability of about 1 in 60,000. However, due to increased awareness and improved lightning conductors and protection, the number of annual lightning deaths has been decreasing steadily year by year.
- Do not be next to a high object such as a tree or near metal objects like poles and fences.
- Do not take shelter in car ports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach pavilions, tents, sheds, greenhouses, golf shelters and baseball dugout
- Take shelter in a building or a vehicle. It was reported that “The steel frame of a hard topped vehicle can protect you from lightning and to “avoid using electronic equipment inside the car and avoid touching anything metal.”
- If inside a building, avoid electrical equipment and plumbing including taking a shower.
- Risk remains for up to 30 minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder.
- It has been reported that “If you are on water, get to the shore and off wide, open beaches as quickly as possible as water will transmit strikes from further away. Studies have shown that proximity to water is a common factor in lightning strikes.
- It has been reported that “If you do not have anywhere to go, then you should make for the lowest possible ground like a valley or ravine.
- Do not huddle up “…with other people in a group — spread out from your friends as much as you can.
- If your hair stands on end, lightning is about to strike you or in your vicinity. Get indoors as fast as possible. If not, drop to your knees and bend forward but don’t lie flat on the ground. You may also feel a tingling sensation of static electricity on your skin.
- 1660s: In 1660, lightning ignited the gunpowder magazine at Osaka Castle, Japan; the resultant explosion set the castle on fire. In 1665, lightning again terminated on the main tower of the castle, igniting a fire, which subsequently burned it to its foundation.
- 1769: A particularly deadly lightning incident occurred in Brescia, Italy. Lightning struck the Church of St. Nazaire, igniting the 90 tons of gunpowder in its vaults; the resulting explosion killed 3,000 people and destroyed a sixth of the city.
- 1901: 11 killed and one was paralyzed below the hips by a strike in Chicago.
- 1902: A lightning strike damaged the upper section of the Eiffel Tower, requiring the reconstruction of its top.
- 1970 July 12: The central mast of the Orlunda radio transmitter in central Sweden collapsed after a lightning strike destroyed its foundation insulator.
- 1980 June 30: A lightning incident killed 11 pupils in Biego primary school in Kenya in present-day Nyamira County. Another 50 pupils were injured, while others were left traumatized.
- 1994 November 2: A lightning incident led to the explosion of fuel tanks in Durunka, Egypt, causing 469 fatalities.
- 2005 October 31: Sixty-eight dairy cows died on a farm at Fern brook on the Waterfall Way near Dorrigo, New South Wales, after being involved in a lightning incident. Three others were temporarily paralyzed for several hours, later making a full recovery. The cows were sheltering near a tree when it was struck by lightning. Soil resistivity is generally higher than that of animal tissue. When immense amounts of energy are released into the soil, just the few meters up an animal’s leg, through its body and down other legs can present a markedly reduced resistance to electrical current and a proportionally higher amount will flow through the animal than the soil on which it is standing. This phenomenon, called ground-potential rise, can cause significant and damaging electrical shock, enough to kill large animals.
- 2007 July: A lightning incident killed up to 30 people when it struck Ushari Dara, a remote mountain village in northwestern Pakistan.
- 2011 June 8: A lightning strike sent 77 Air Force cadets to the hospital when it struck in the middle of a training camp at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
- 2013 February: Nine South African children were hospitalized after a lightning incident occurred on a cricket field at their school, injuring five children on the pitch and four girls who were walking home.
- 2016 May–June: Rock am Ring festival near Frankfurt was cancelled after at least 80 people were injured due to lightning in the area. Additionally, 11 children in France and three adults in Germany were injured and one man killed in southern Poland around the same dates.
- 2016 August 26: A herd of wild reindeer was struck on the Hardangervidda in central Norway, killing 323. Norwegian Environment Agency spokesman Kjartan Knutsen said it had never heard of such a death toll before. He said he did not know if multiple strikes occurred, but that they all died in “one moment
- 2017: The first live recording of a lightning strike on a cardiac rhythm strip occurred in a teenaged male who had an implanted loop recorder as a cardiac monitor for neurocardiogenic syncope.
- 2018: A lightning strike killed at least 16 people and injured dozens more at a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Rwanda.
- 2021: A lightning strike killed a 9-year-old boy in a field in Blackpool, England.
- 2021: In April, at least 76 people across India were killed by lightning strike on a single weekend; 23 people died on the watchtower of Amer Fort, a popular tourist spot in Rajasthan, and 42 were killed in Uttar Pradesh with the highest toll of 14 happening in the city of Allahabad. Lastly, 11 were killed in Madhya Pradesh with two of them killed while sheltering under trees when they were tending sheep.
- 2021: On August 4, 17 people were killed by a single lightning strike in Shibganj Upazila of Chapainawabganj district in Bangladesh; 16 people died on the spot and the other one died by heart attack while seeing the others.
- 2022: On August 4, 3 people were killed and another person was injured after lightning struck a tree in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.
- 2022: On August 5, lightning struck a fuel tank at an oil storage facility in Matanzas, causing a fire and a series of explosions that resulted in at least one death and up to 125 injuries. In addition, 17 firefighters were reported missing.
- 2022: On August 18, a woman was killed and two people hospitalized after lightning struck a tree in Winter Springs, Florida.
- 2023: On 29 may, 6 people died in THAR area of Pakistan due to lightening strikes
Airplanes are commonly struck by lightning without damage, with the typical commercial aircraft hit at least once a year. Sometimes, though, the effects of a strike are serious.
- 1963 December 8: Pan Am Flight 214 crashed outside Elkton, Maryland, during a severe electrical storm, with a loss of all 81 passengers and crew. The Boeing 707-121, registered as N709PA, was on the final leg of a San Juan–Baltimore–Philadelphia flight.
- 1969 November 14: The Apollo 12 mission’s Saturn V rocket and its ionized exhaust plume became part of a lightning flash channel 36.5 seconds after lift-off. Although the discharge occurred “through” the metal skin and framework of the vehicle, it did not ignite the rocket’s highly combustible fuel.
- 1971 December 24: LANSA Flight 508, a Lockheed L-188A Electra turboprop, registered OB-R-941, operated as a scheduled domestic passenger flight by Lineas Aéreas Nacionales Sociedad Anonima (LANSA), crashed after a lightning strike ignited a fuel tank while it was en route from Lima, Peru, to Pucallpa, Peru, killing 91 people – all of its 6 crew-members and 85 of its 86 passengers. The sole survivor was Juliane Koepcke, who fell 2 miles (3.2 km) down into the Amazon rainforest strapped to her seat and remarkably survived the fall, and was then able to walk through the jungle for 10 days until she was rescued by local fishermen.
- 2012 November 4: a plane was reported as exploding off the coast of Herne Bay, Kent, while in flight. This did not turn out to be the case; rather, the plane became part of the flash channel, causing observers to report the plane and surrounding sky appeared bright pink.
- 2019 May 5: Aeroflot Flight 1492, a Sukhoi Superjet 100, was, according to the flight captain, struck by lightning on take-off, damaging electrical systems and forcing the pilots to attempt an emergency landing. The plane hit the ground hard and caught on fire, which engulfed the plane on the runway. Of the 78 people on board, 41 were killed.
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