How Can You Survive a Lightning Strike?

Lighting strikes somewhere on Earth at least one hundred times every second.  That’s three Billion times a year!  Considering that, your chances of lightning striking you are amazingly low.

In the United States, statistics show that your chances of being struck by lighting in a single year are about 1 in 100,000.  Over your entire life, your chances of being hit are 1 in 10,000.  Of course, these odds can vary a lot depending on where you live and what your habits are.  If you live in Tampa Florida and you often play golf in July, your odds of getting zapped by a lightning bolt are much higher than if you’re someone who spends most of your time in shopping malls or big office buildings.

There are Two Different Types of Lightning Strikes

Direct and Indirect Lightning Strike.

Direct Lightning Strike

A direct lightning strike is when a lightning bolt hits you directly on top of your head.  Direct lightning strikes can also occur if you’re holding onto something, like a flagpole that is struck and then conducts the energy into you.

Indirect Lightning Strikes

An indirect lightning strike hits the ground around you.  When this happens, the electricity will run up your legs and give you a pretty good jolt!  Ground strikes kill more people because the energy is able to connect with multiple people at once.

Energy of lightning

While the Direct lightning strike can kill a single person standing in a crowd of many, an indirect lightning strike can destroy an entire heard of cows in seconds.

A lightning strike is indeed no joke.  A single lightning bolt is three hundred Kilovolt (KV) of energy that can heat the air around it to temperatures of roughly 30,000 kelvins (53,540 degrees Fahrenheit). The surface of the sun, on the other hand, is just 6,000 kelvins (10,340 degrees Fahrenheit).

What Happens When You Get Hit By Lightning?

What Happens When You Get Hit By Lightning?

So what happens when you get hit by lightning?  The worst case scenario is of course death.  Death would occur when the electrical current cooks your brain.  However, the most common immediate cause of death is cardiac arrest.  Cardiac arrest happens when the shock instantly stops the victim’s heart.

Surprisingly, seventy to ninety percent of lightning strike victims survive.  I’m not saying that after you survive a lightning strike, you get back up and continue with your day unscathed.  The resulting injuries can be severe, but the good news is, if lightning strikes you down, you’re more likely to survive than instantly die.

If you do survive, here’s a few things you can expect.

  1. The force of the lightning bolt leaving your feet can literally blow your shoes off!
  2. Your clothing could catch on fire due to the immense heat of the lightning strike.
  3. If you’re wearing a lot of jewelry, or even an underwire bra, that metal could channel the electrical current and sear your skin, leaving you with severe burns.
  4. The lightning bolt itself will probably leave deep wounds where it enters and exits your body, so this will result in having bad burns.
  5. You might also be left with the coolest natural made tattoo on the planet.  The unique physiques of electrical discharge leave branch like marks called “Lichtenberg Scarring.”  Lichtenberg Scarring occurs as blood vessels burst.  The fractal scars that are left actually look like lightning.
  6. You’re very likely to end up with some nerve damage with that amount of electricity coursing through your body.  When nerve damage happens, it can leave you with permanent numbness, the inability to register temperature and partial paralysis.
  7. Some lightning strike survivors develop muscle twitches as well, Similar to those in Parkinson’s patients.
  8. Your eardrums might rupture.  The is not because of the lightning strike but because of the thunder.  As you must already know, the sound of thunder is deafening, even when we hear it from miles away.  Emagine if you hear it from just inches away from your ear.  For many lighting strike survivors, eardrum rupture is the initial trauma. That type of initial lightning struck Roy’s truck is usually the easiest part of the whole ordeal.

Bizarre Mental and Physical After Effect of a Lightning Strike

The mental and physical effect is often plentiful and often odd.  Some of these symptoms may take months after the initial lightning strike to manifest themselves.

  • Memory Loss
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Tremors
  • Loss of Balance
  • Intense Headaches
  • Chronic Irritability
  • Depression

Because being struck by lightning is so rare, many doctors do not know how to help their patients. This complaint, along with higher suicide rates in strike victims has led to the formation of various “Lightning Strike Survivor Support Groups.”

Roy Sullivan – Record Holder of the Most Lightning Strikes Survived

Roy Sullivan – Record Holder of the Most Lightning Strikes Survived.

Roy Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in the State of Virginia.  Mr. Sullivan was struck by lightning a total of seven times and survived all of them.  A nickname was given to Roy Sullivan, Human Lightning Conductor, and Human Lightning Rod.  He started his career as a park ranger in 1936 but had to wait six years until he experienced his first lightning strike in 1942.

    1. April 1942 – Roy Sullivan’s first documented lightning strike happened in April 1942. He was hiding in a fire lookout tower from a severe lightning storm.  The fire lookout tower was relatively new and had no lightning rods at the time of this incident.  The structure was hit seven or eight times.  The tower was on fire, so Roy Sullivan ran out and almost instantly received what he considered to be his worst lightning strike.  His right leg had a half-inch strip burn mark.  The bolt also hit his toe and left a hole in his shoe.
    2. July 1969 – Driving on a mountain road, Roy’s truck was struck by lightning.  The lightning strike first hit nearby trees and was deflected into the open window of his vehicle.  The blow knocked him unconscious, burned off his eyelashes and eyebrows and also set his hair on fire.  The truck eventually stopped near the edge of a cliff.
    3. 1970 – Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning in his front yard when a power transformer received a direct hit from a lightning bolt and jumped onto him, searing his left shoulder in the process.
    4. 1972 – While working inside a ranger station in Shenandoah National Park, Sullivan was hit by lightning a fourth time and set his hair on fire.  He unsuccessfully tried to put out the fire with his jacket and then rushed to the restroom and used a wet towel to put out the fire.
    5. August 7, 1973 – While out on park patrol, Sullivan saw a storm forming around him and drove away.  Thinking he has outrun the storm, he thought it was safe to leave his truck but was struck by lightning soon after.  The strike set his hair on fire, moved down his left arm and left leg, knocking off his shoe in the process. The lightning then crossed over to his right leg, below his knee.  Sullivan crawled back to his truck to retrieve a can of water to pour over his burning head.
    6. June 5, 1976 – Roy reported seeing a cloud and thought that it was following him.  He tried to outrun the cloud but got struck anyway, injuring his ankle in the process.
    7. June 25, 1977 – Roy was fishing in a freshwater pool when for his last time, was struck by lightning.  The top of his head was struck setting his hair on fire.  The lightning then traveled down and burned his chest and stomach.  When he was turning to run back to his car, he noticed a bear approaching the pond, trying to steal the trout he has just caught, directly from his fishing line!  What are the odds? Actually, in Roy Sullivans case, the odds of encountering a bear are pretty good since this was the twenty-second time he defended himself against a potential bear attack.

Roy Sullivan’s Mental State

After being struck by lightning on seven different occasions, Roy’s mental state was beginning to deteriorate. Roy was never a fearful man, heck, he defended himself from over 20 bear encounters and kept working as a park ranger; But after his fourth lightning strike, he began to fear death.  He started to believe there was a malevolent force trying to destroy him.  Whenever he was caught driving in a storm, he would pull over and lie down on the front seat until the storm passed.

Roy’s Passing

Roy Sullivan passed away on the morning of September 28, 1983; he was 71.  He died in mysterious circumstances from a gunshot wound to the head.  Some say Roy shot himself due to unrequited love, but many believe he was suffering from depression.  Depression is one of many symptoms resulting from being struck by lightning, and since he died from suicide, it might be safe to say the electricity did indirectly claim his life in the end.

How to Survive a Lightning Strike

So, How can you survive a lightning strike? If you get caught in the middle of a big open field during a lightning storm, you might think that wearing a metal suit would be the last thing that would keep you safe right? Wrong!  You might think this is crazy to wear a metal suit over any other type of material but here’s why you’de be wrong to think that.

Lightning bolts are just long streams of fast flowing electrons looking for the most natural path to ground and nothing will create a more accessible route than metal.  Metal is an excellent conductor of electricity.  Electrons glide so effortlessly over metal that they barely penetrate into the surface.  If an electrical current happens to be moving over a hollow metal container, like a can or a box, the current won’t reach inside of the inside of the container.

Faraday Cage

Your car is essentially a Faraday cage.

Physicist calls this kind of container a Faraday Cage.  Or in the case of steel-woven clothing worn by linemen working on high-voltage wires, a Faraday suit.  Your car is an everyday example of a Faraday Cage, which is why despite what you may have heard about rubber tires, it’s actually the closed metal chassis of the vehicle surrounding you that keeps you safe.  It channels lightning around, rather than through you.


If you’re away from your car and get caught in an open field during a storm chance are slim that you will have a medieval coat of armor, or a high voltage line-suit handy. In that case, whether you’re naked or in full clothes, your body, unfortunately, happens to be a better electrical conductor than both air and soil, so it provides an excellent shortcut for traveling current.

So What Should You Do?

What you should do if you’re in danger of a lightning strike.

Stand upright, and you’re the fastest route for a descending lightning bolt.  Lie down, and you’re the best path for current racing along the ground from a nearby lightning strike.  Both those cases will most likely kill you.

The best thing to do is crouch low and keep your feet close together.  When your feet are right next to each other, your legs don’t make for much of a shortcut for the current to get from point A to point B.  Even if your legs end up being the best path for the lighting when your feet are the only thing touching the ground, then the current will most likely travel up one leg and down the other, miss critical organs in the process.

The best thing to do is when you see a storm forming on the horizon, head indoors.

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