The idea that lightning won't strike the same place twice is a dangerous myth. Lightning can — and does — strike the same place more than once.
To understand why a lightning strike is so dangerous, it helps to understand what lightning is. Essentially, lightning is a giant spark of electricity moving through the atmosphere. We typically associate lightning with thunderstorms. All thunderstorms produce lightning. Lightning also occurs in strong hurricanes, heavy snowstorms, intense wildfires, volcanic eruptions and in nuclear detonations.
The idea that lightning can't strike the same place twice is a long-held belief, but it is not true. Many tall structures are frequently hit by lightning — think of skyscrapers in big cities. These tall buildings are often hit by lightning because lightning frequently strikes the tallest object.
But even apart from these tall structures, it's possible for one spot to be struck more than once. Some sites are more likely to be struck repeatedly because of the specific properties of a location. Many factors can affect the ability of a spot to conduct electricity, including the presence of water, moisture, rocks, salt and other minerals, and metal in the ground. Even the shape of the land and the presence of leaves and plants may make a spot more likely to be struck.
Lightning is one of the oldest observed natural phenomena on Earth. It is also one of the most deadly. It is a major cause of storm-related deaths in the United States. Only floods and tornadoes kill more people each year than lightning.
Between 2009 and 2018, an average of 27 people have been killed annually in the United States by lightning strikes. However, the vast majority of people who are struck by lightning do not die. Only about 10% of lightning strikes result in death.
The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is inside, so remember to heed this advice: When thunder roars, go indoors. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be hit by lightning. Stay inside until after the storm passes and you can no longer hear thunder.
If you are caught outside in a storm, take shelter in a vehicle if possible. Do not take shelter under tall trees or partially enclosed structures, and avoid open areas. You should also avoid structures that can conduct electricity, such as power lines and metal fences.
If your hair starts to stand on end during a thunderstorm, it's a sign you could be in immediate danger of being struck by lightning. If this happens, get indoors right away. If you can't, drop to your knees and bend forward, but do not lie on the ground because wet ground can be a good conductor of electricity.
If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 immediately. People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electric charge, so it is safe to give first aid if necessary. Remember to stay safe — lightning can strike twice.
Follow Willy's Wilderness on Facebook for more kid-friendly nature stories and activities.