Spectacular image of lightning
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Corel Photography

Things You Probably Don't Know About Lightning
News story originally written on June 25, 1999

Everyone knows that lightning is very dangerous. But how much do you really know about lightning? Do you know how it really works? How many people are killed or injured each year? Where do most lightning fatalities occur? Below are some interesting facts about those dangerous flashes.

So, how deadly is lightning? On average, about 100 people are killed in the United States every year. This is actually more than tornadoes or hurricanes! Also, a large majority of lightning strike victims is male. This may be due to the large number of male golfers and football players!

Can you guess which state holds the title of "Deadliest State"? If you're thinking of one in the famous Tornado Alley, you're wrong. It's not Oklahoma or Texas. The title actually belongs to.... Florida. That's right! Twice as many lightning casualties occur in Florida than any other state. Not surprising, is the fact that most deaths occur on Sunday than any other day of the week. Why? Because it is the most popular day to be out on the golf course!

Let's be serious for just a moment, and discuss how lightning really works. It is much more than just a flash coming down from the sky. The truth is, the flash we see isn't even coming down from the cloud! It is actually a group of positively charged ions going back up into the cloud from the ground. These positively charged ions form in groups on the end points of various objects (such as trees, poles and people). That is why you should never stand underneath a tree during a storm! It also explains why it is so dangerous to golf or even stand in a bare field when lightning occurs!

The most important thing to remember, is that safety comes first during an electric storm. So, when your local meteorologist predicts a thunderstorm in the afternoon, (which happens to be the time of day with the most lightning strikes) don't head out to the local golf course. You may get much more than you bargained for!

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Thunder and Lightning

Lightning is the most spectacular element of a thunderstorm. In fact it is how thunderstorms got their name. Wait a minute, what does thunder have to do with lightning? Well, lightning causes thunder....more

Hurricanes (also known as Tropical Cyclones)

As a strong hurricane heads towards a vulnerable coast, people take precautions - boarding up houses, packing the car, and evacuating. These massive storms can spell disaster for people in hurricane prone...more

What is "Tornado Alley"?

The land which stretches from Texas to Manitoba is relatively flat, most of which is part of the Great Plains in the United States. The flat land is a good breeding ground for the storms which produce...more


Thunderstorms are one of the most thrilling and dangerous types of weather phenomena. Over 40,000 thunderstorms occur throughout the world each day. Thunderstorms form when very warm, moist air rises into...more

1999--A Year in Review...

It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more

STS-95 Launch: "Let the wings of Discovery lift us on to the future."

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EST, October 29th. The sky was clear and the weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit for the Unitied...more

Moon Found Orbiting Asteroid

A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA