Lightning Strikes: Zapped and Unzipped
Who isn’t afraid of being struck by lightning? Only 1 in 9.09 adults owns up to the fear, but for the legions who hide under the covers when the sky explodes, fear seems like a perfectly rational response. One lightning bolt can reach over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit— five to six times hotter than the surface of the sun—and contain 100 million volts of electricity. And at any given time, somewhere in the vicinity of 1,800 thunderstorms are scattered around the earth.
But although there are approximately 25 million cloud-to-ground strikes every year, the odds a person will be hit by lightning during that period are only 1 in 835,500. Even more astounding, the odds of being killed in a year by lightning are an astronomical 1 in 6,126,000. In 2009, 28 people were killed by lightning. Eighty-two percent of the victims were male, and all were outside at the time.
Many more people are hit than are killed—and some survivors live to be struck another day. You may have heard that lightning can indeed strike twice—but seven times? That’s exactly what happened to Roy Sullivan, a US Park Ranger, who earned the moniker “Human Lightning Conductor.” He was first struck in the leg in 1942—all it cost him was the nail on his big toe. Over the next 35 years, Sullivan was hit six more times—blasted out of his car, knocked unconscious, his hair set on fire (twice), and finally burned so badly he actually had to go to the hospital. Sullivan died at the age of 71, struck down not by Mother Nature but by his own hand. He was reportedly distraught over a broken heart.
Don Frick of Hamlin, Pennsylvania, was only hit by lightning twice—but both strikes occurred on the same day of the year, 27 years apart. The first time, on July 27, 1980, Frick reported that he sustained injuries to his side from a lightning strike which sidelined him for the better part of a month. The second time, July 27, 2007, Frick was outside enjoying a local festival when a storm blew in. He hurriedly took refuge in a shed with six others and when lightning hit the ground nearby, Frick was thrown up against a wall. Like the others, he escaped without serious injury, but photographs of his pants became a sensation. The lightning had burned straight down his zipper.
Click here for our interview with Jerry LeDoux, survivor of two lightning strikes.