What happens when lightning strikes near you? What are the dangers associated with it, and how does it affect your body?
These are important questions you need to be asking if you live in areas experiencing frequent thunderstorms.
Most times, we find ourselves outside and away from the shelter during a thunderstorm.
Lightning can strike anytime, and we might be unfortunate enough to be standing close by.
When lightning strikes near you, it sends an electric current through your body.
In most cases, this just grazes over the skin surface, leaving minor injuries such as skin burns.
5 Ways Lightning Can Strike People
There are numerous ways lightning can strike a person, either directly or indirectly.
Indirect lightning strikes could happen through side flashes, conduction, ground current, and streamers.
Lightning strikes are discharges of high-current electricity capable of causing massive damage to anything they hit.
The current of an average bolt of lightning can be up to 20,000 amperes.
They can cause damage to electrical equipment in homes, start fire outbreaks, cause permanent injuries in humans, and even cause death.
According to the national weather service, about 20 people are killed by lightning each year in the United States of America, with over 100 more suffering injuries.
The extent of the injuries varies among survivors, with some getting just skin burns while others suffer from lifelong neurological damage.
Tip: Knowing the various ways lightning can strike an individual is the first step in protecting yourself from being a victim of lightning strikes.
Means #1: Direct Strike
This type of lightning strike accounts for 3–5% of all lightning-related injuries. It is when a bolt of lightning directly strikes or hits a person.
When lightning directly strikes a person, he or she becomes part of the lightning discharge channel as an electric current is passed through them.
This type of lightning strike mostly occurs in open fields and is considered the most deadly type of lightning strike.
It can cause significant and permanent damage to the victims or even death.
The chances of a victim surviving a direct lightning strike will be dependent on the amount of current moving through the body.
It’ll also be dependent on the availability of immediate medical attention.
When lightning strikes an individual, a portion of the current passes through the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) and nervous systems.
This can cause the heart to stop beating or start beating irregularly and cause blood vessels and arteries to burst, leading to internal bleeding.
Note: In the nervous system, the electric current passing through the body can damage nerve cells and cause temporary paralysis.
Means #2: Side Flash
A side flash or side splash occurs when lightning strikes a tall object or structure.
This could either be a tree or a pole and then bounces off the taller object to hit a person underneath it.
This is common in cloud-to-ground types of lightning. Lightning is always looking for the shortest path to the ground.
This is so that when it strikes an object that’s not conductive, most of the energy spreads outward and moves toward the ground, where it hits the victim.
Victims standing within a foot or two of the object now serve as a short circuit for some of that energy being discharged.
Note: It is not advisable to use a tree as cover against a lightning strike during a rainstorm.
Means #3: Ground Current
This is similar to a side flash, with the exception that the victim is not too close to the object and the current finds its way to the ground surface.
When a tree or any other tall object is struck by lightning, most of its energy spreads outward and along the ground surface (this energy is known as ground current).
Anybody close to such an object hit by lightning is prone to be affected by this ground current.
This type of lightning strike is the most common cause of death and injury because it covers and affects a much larger area.
Note: Lightning enters the body from one contact point and passes through the cardiovascular and/or nervous systems, causing damage in its path.
Means #4: Conduction
This type of lightning strike hits people through conductive media.
Conductors such as metals, saltwater, and wires are capable of transmitting electrical currents from lightning over long distances.
They provide a path for lightning to follow, and any person who comes in contact with them is affected.
Lightning strikes through conduction are mostly common and responsible for most indoor lightning strike casualties.
When lightning strikes the top of a building, it can send electrical currents down through metallic objects, and touching them could be detrimental.
To prevent this, lightning rods are mounted on high buildings and structures to protect them from lightning strikes.
Tip: Avoid touching any metal surface or any electrical equipment during a thunderstorm to prevent being struck by lightning.
Means #5: Streamers
Streamers are formed when a downward-moving leader approaches the ground.
Normally, many streamers are created, but only one makes contact with the leader, which creates the part for the return stroke.
But as the main channel discharges, all the other streamers created in that area also discharge, even if they don’t connect with any leaders from the sky.
This type of lightning strike is not common but can be deadly for anyone caught in it.
What Does It Mean When Lightning Strikes Near You?
It simply means that you’ve been struck by indirect lightning. In direct lightning, all the energy of the lightning is directed through the body of the victim.
While in indirect lightning, it first hits the ground or an object, then spreads to the victim standing close by.
Lots of people underestimate the impact indirect lightning can have on a human, but it shouldn’t be so.
Here are some facts about indirect lightning:
Fact #1: An Indirect Lightning Strike Can Kill
Indirect lightning is deadly and capable of causing permanent damage to the body and even death.
Lightning bolts can pack up to 20,000 amperes of electric current at a time.
This alone is more than enough to wreak havoc on the nervous and cardiovascular systems of the body.
It is advisable to always avoid open spaces during thunderstorms and keep a safe distance from any metallic object.
Fact #2: Indirect Lightning Strikes Happen More Often
Unlike direct lightning strikes, indirect lightning happens more often and is fairly common during the summer months.
They account for over 50% of all lightning injuries each year, while direct lightning strikes account for around 4%.
Fact #3: Indirect Lightning Is Capable Of Causing Massive Damage
Just like normal electricity, indirect lightning can produce electric sparks that can ignite combustible materials such as dry grass and lead to fire incidents.
Lightning is very hot and can reach over 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This heat can start a combustion process, which can lead to fire outbreaks.
Indirect lightning can also cause significant damage to building structures and electrical appliances.
What Happens When Lightning Strikes Near You?
When lightning strikes close to a person, the odds of the person being shocked by the electric current from the lightning are high.
As lightning strikes the ground, electrons or electric currents spread out all over as far as possible from each other.
These electric currents can flow through the body of anybody standing close to the point of impact.
This current either passes outside your body through your skin, causing skin burns and flesh injuries.
If it passes through the thoracic cavity, it can cause life-threatening health problems, and in the worst-case scenario, death.
Signs That Lightning Is About To Strike
We can’t control thunderstorms, and they can send a bolt of lightning rushing toward the ground at any point.
One way we can keep ourselves safe from being hit by lightning is by watching out for signs of impending storms.
Presence Of Cumulonimbus Clouds In The Sky
Cumulonimbus clouds are white, multi-leveled clouds lying a few hundred feet above the earth’s surface.
They are the only type of cloud with the ability to produce hail, lightning, and thunder.
Once you start noticing the buildup of thunderclouds in the sky, you can be certain that a storm is brewing.
Presence Of Wind And Dark Clouds
Another sign is the presence of increasing winds and dark clouds covering the sky.
Once you notice the sky getting darker when it’s not supposed to, you can be sure that a storm is on the way.
Sound Of Thunder
Thunder is the sound lightning makes, so once you can hear the sound of thunder, it means there is a storm close by and it’s coming your way.
The louder the thunder, the closer the storm.
Note: You should see lightning first before hearing the accompanying thunder; the number of seconds it takes between both can help you know how far away the storm is.
If there will be a storm in your town or area, it will be made known in the weather forecast report.
Make it a habit to check weather reports daily.
Tip: If you notice your body hair standing on end, it means you are about to be struck by lightning and if it happens, drop to your knees and lean forward.
At this point, you should now know what happens when lightning strikes near you.
It is dangerous and can cause bodily harm and even death.
When there is a thunderstorm, always remember to stay away from any metal material or surfaces, avoid standing close to any tall structure or in an open field, and do not seek shade under trees when it’s raining.
All this can expose you to indirect lightning and should be avoided.