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Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike Overview

Lightning strikes are weather-related medical emergencies. Lightning is consistently among the top five weather-related killers. In typical years past, lightning killed more people in the United States than any other natural disaster (with the exception of flash floods), including tornadoes. However, such deaths have decreased. In 2011, lightning-related deaths were low and were topped by tornadoes, heat, floods and rip currents.

Most people killed or injured by lightning are outside doing recreational activities such as fishing, boating, swimming, or playing sports. Others are working outdoors at construction jobs. Farmers are often struck, too.

Lightning Strike Causes

Injury from a lightning strike may occur in any of these ways:

  • Direct strike: Lightning directly strikes a person.
  • Contact strike: A person is touching an object (such as a tree or pole) that has been struck by lightning.
  • Side splash: Lightning jumps from the primary strike object on its way to the ground.
  • Ground strike: Lightning strikes the ground and the current spreads out in a circle from that spot.
  • Blunt injury: A person is thrown violently from the lightning strike or from the explosive force that occurs as surrounding air is superheated and rapidly cooled.
  • Upward streamer: When a low-energy electrical charge streams upward to meet a downward leader, it may carry enough current to cause electrical injury even if it does not connect with the downward current to complete the lightning strike.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/23/2014
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