Lightning is one hell of a force of nature. Lightning bolts form when electrical imbalances build up either between a cloud and the ground or a cloud and a cloud. Lightning is that imbalance equalizing itself. There are about 40 to 50 lightning strikes around the world every second, with the yearly total hitting well over 1 billion. It's hard to get a precise count of the number of people hit by lightning worldwide, but we do know that there were 28 reported cases of people being killed by lightning in 2012, half the levels of a decade ago and around 5 percent of the number of people killed back in the '40s.
Photo: Vernon Swanepoel/Flickr
Thankfully every lightning strike is not a fatal strike. According to a the National Weather Service (NWS), 90 percent of lightning strike victims survive, though survivors can still be left with lingering and debilitating health issues. (The NWS has compiled a collection of harrowing stories of lightning strike survivors that's worth a read. And here are some tips for avoiding being struck by lightning.)
Here we've collected the striking stories of eight people who survived being hit by lightning we thought were worth sharing:
Winston Kemp walked away from his lightning strike, likely a ground strike in which lightning spills over the ground around the impact spot of a direct hit, and didn't realize he'd been hit until a few hours later when his arm started hurting. Blisters soon formed — and those eventually healed into this tragically beautiful fractal pattern.
The beautiful scar from lightning on Kemp' arm. (Photo: Winston Kemp/GearDiary.com)
The odds of getting hit by lightning in any one year is 1 in 700,000. Melvin Roberts has been hit six times.
In terms of strict probability, the odds of getting struck by lightning six times is a 1 in 1.17 x 1040 (or 117 million billion billion). The true probability has to be factored downward some amount to account for living in an area with a lot of lightning strikes, but even still, it's a rare thing to be hit that many times. Roberts, who lives in Seneca, S.C., (a state with a higher than average likelihood of getting hit by lightning), was last struck on a sunny day while out on a lawn mower cutting his neighbor's grass. Lightning can travel for miles before touching down to the ground (or an unfortunate person), so it's not unheard of for people to get hit under blue sunny skies.
As rare as it is to be hit by lightning six times, there's a guy who has been struck seven times. Roy Sullivan was a U.S. park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, he survived seven lightning strikes. All seven were documented and together describe the terrifying attraction lightning seemed to have for poor Sullivan. His second hit was while he was in his truck, which usually acts as a Faraday cage, diverting the electricity down and around into the ground. His fourth hit was when he was inside a ranger station in Shenandoah National Park, while his fifth and sixth hits came from small clouds that he swore were following him. Saving the craziest for last, his seventh hit was while fishing. After being hit by the bolt, he had to fight off a bear who ambled out of the foods with the intention of stealing the fish he had caught.
And this is a picture of Roy with the hat he was wearing during one of his strikes.
Fortunately 14-year-old Austin Melton was only hit by lighting once. He was at a basketball game as his middle school in Sunriver, Ore., when a storm knocked out power to the gym. Austin walked outside and was soon struck by lightning. The next thing he remembers is being in the hospital with burns his head, chest and ankle. One of his eardrums was also perforated, likely from the concussive effects of the lightning. To his credit, Austin has adopted the nickname "Sparky."
Jens Gottlieb and Lisa Gruhn
Jens Gottlieb and his girlfriend, Lisa Gruhn, suffered both from the pain caused by their lightning strike as well as the embarrassment of the circumstances surrounding their accident — Gottlieb and Gruhn were having sex in the woods when a storm rolled in. It wasn't until a nearby lightning bolt created a ground strike that hit the amorous couple that they interrupted their session. Scared of being hit again, they panicked and ran out of the woods. Nearby drivers spotted the two, sans clothing, and alerted the police, who found and drove them home.
Sophie Frost and Mason Billington
14-year-old Sophie Frost is alive today because her grandmother bought her an iPod. Sophie was walking home with her boyfriend Mason, also 14, when a lightning bolt hit them both. Mason suffered damage to his eyes while Sophie was burned down the front of her body as the electricity followed along the wires of her iPod. Doctors believe that this diversion saved Sophie's life because the electricity was routed away from her heart and other vital organs. Both were expected to make a full recovery from their injuries.
11-year-old Lisa Wehrle can be excused for not seeking shelter on the day she was struck — it was a beautiful sunny and clear day out. Lisa was out walking with a friend when a lightning bolt traveled from a storm miles away to hit her in her shoulder. The electricity entered her shoulder and exited her wrist, leaving behind a broken arm.
Photo: Lightning Lnk.Si/Flickr
Poor little 12-year-old Alice Svensson was hit by lightning twice in one storm. She was showering in her home in Gothenburg, Sweden, when lightning hit nearby and traveled through the plumbing of her house to hit her. Unaware that she was struck the first time, her mother was helping her finish showering when a second hit zapped the young girl through the shower pipes.
Want to read more about lightning? Get charged up here on MNN:
- Fulgurites: When lightning strikes sand, magic is formed
- When it comes to lightning strikes, what's the most dangerous activity?
- Lightning strike blows bark off tree