Weather Facts and Myths Week 2: Lightning

By: Meteorologist Samantha Thomas Email
By: Meteorologist Samantha Thomas Email

Cheyenne, WY (KGWN) For this weeks installment of weather facts vs myths we took a detailed looked at whether it is possible to be struck by Bolts from the Blue and if lightning really does strike the tallest object.

Fact or myth? You cannot get struck by lightning if you cannot see it or if the storm is not directly over you.

According to the National Weather Service, on average there are 53 lightning deaths per year in the United States. Here in Wyoming, there have only been 4 lightning related deaths since 2003. While that may not seem like a lot, Wyoming ranks in the top 10 for lightning deaths per capita in the country.

According to NWS senior forecaster Shawn Liebl, "...the fact is, that if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Even though you may not see the lightning bolt or the thunderstorm is several miles away, you are still in danger. People as far as 20 miles away from the thunderstorm have reported being struck by lightning. "

If you find yourself stuck outside during a thunderstorm, you want to immediately get away from any trees, bodies of water and metal objects. You also never want to lie flat on the ground. In fact, the safest position to be in is on the balls of your feet crouched down on the ground, with your feet as close together as possible. Your should cover your ears and make sure no other parts of your body are in contact with the ground. When lightning strikes, it is common for the electricity to travel through the surface of the earth, by having a limited surface area touching the ground you reduce the chance of being injured.

People have even reported being struck under blue skies, so it is a myth that you need to see lightning or be directly under a storm to get struck.

It is another common belief that lightning will always strike the tallest object, fact or myth?

When lightning strikes, it searches for an object that is the best conductor of electricity. It is when these two meet that electricity flows from the cloud to the ground, this is also when we see the bolt. So, it is a myth that lightning always strikes the tallest object, rather it strikes the best conductor.

"This is why you may notice an object such as a house or metal fence being struck in your neighborhood even though there are tall trees around. Higher objects are more prone to get hit, but it does not mean that only the highest objects will get it."

Lightning is one of the most dangerous weather phenomenon and one not often talked much about. It is important to remember when thunder roars, get indoors, and wait at least 30 minutes after that last clap of thunder before going back outside.


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