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The Science of Lightning

Your chances of being struck by lightning in the US are 1 in 600,000.

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Your chances of being struck by lightning in the United States are 1 in 600,000. But your chances of being struck in Colorado are higher, simply due to the state being ranked number 11 for lightning deaths in the country. Here in Colorado, lightning is the number one life-threatening weather hazard.

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What is Lightning? Lightning is a big charge of electricity that can reach from clouds to the ground or to other clouds. It can start fires and it is strong enough to hurt or kill people. Lightning also helps nature by putting nitrogen in the ground for plants to use.

Is Lightning Really Dangerous? There are thousands of lightning strikes every day. Scientists think that lightning hits somewhere on the earth about 100 times every second. More people are killed by lightning than by any other kind of storm, including hurricanes and tornadoes. Every year, about 100 people are killed by lightning in the United States and approximately another 100 people are killed in Europe. In the whole world, lightning kills more than 1,000 people in a year, maybe many more. A lot more people are hurt by lightning than are killed by it, and many of those who live are hurt very badly.

The Lightning Safety Rule The key to a lightning safety plan of action is knowing the answer to the following two questions: 1. How far away am I (or the group who I am responsible for) from a safe location? 2. How long will it take me (and/or my group) to get to the safe location? These questions need to be answered before lightning storms threaten.  Knowing the answer to the above questions will greatly increase your chances of not becoming a lightning strike victim.

How Far Away is the Lightning? Use the Flash to Bang Rule By counting the seconds between the lightning "flash" and the "bang" of thunder, you can tell how far away the lightning is. Each five seconds equals one mile. In other words, divide the number of seconds by five (5) to get the distance (in miles) 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).

How Much Time do I Need to Find a Safe Location? It is recommended that you should begin to seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less. You should not resume activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder. The combination of these guidelines is known as the 30/30 Lightning Rule.

Did You Know?

  • Florida ranks first in the nation for lightning, with an average of 100 thunderstorm days per year.
  • The lightning capital of the world is the west coast of Africa, with as many as 295 thunderstorm days per year.
  • Number of lightning strikes a day: 8 million   
  • Number of thunderstorms occurring at any given moment: 2,000
  • Number of lightning strikes every second: 100
  • Number of thunderstorms occurring in the United States per year: 100,000
  • Number of lightning strikes in the USA per year: 20 million
  • Number of volts and amps in a typical lightning flash: A typical lightning bolt contains 1 billion volts and contains between 10,000 to 200,000 amperes of current

Additional Info

Want to Learn More? Additional information on lightning safety can be found at http:// www.crh.noaa.gov/pub/ltg/crh_ltg_safety_colo.html.

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