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Deaths from lightning strikes may be the lowest ever in 2020

Published Oct 7th, 2020 6:36PM EDT
lightning deaths
Image: Libor/Adobe

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  • The death toll from lightning strikes in the United States is at a record low.
  • Fewer people are dying from being struck by lightning than in years past, due to a variety of factors.
  • Less intense thunderstorms may be temporarily skewing the numbers down.

The coronavirus pandemic has cost well over 200,000 lives in the United States and over a million people worldwide. It’s been an incredibly devastating outbreak and the virus shows no signs of slowing down. While we wait for a safe and reliable vaccine to finally become available, the headlines seem to get worse and worse, but some new data reveals that at least one deadly type of weather event is actually tapering dramatically.

As CNN reports, the total number of deaths from lightning strikes in the United States is at a record low. In fact, if the trend continues — and it likely will, as the worst storm months are in the rearview mirror right now — the country could tally the fewest deaths from lightning ever in a single year.

Due to the pandemic, people have been isolating more than in past years, but it’s not immediately clear if that is playing into the reduction in deaths from lighting. What is certain is that the weather across the United States has been favorable in terms of minimizing lightning activity.

Typically, lightning kills most people between the months of May and July. This is due to intense storms rolling across the country and producing lightning that, unfortunately, occasionally hits people either inside their homes or outdoors. However, storms in 2020 haven’t produced nearly as much lightning as is typical, reducing the likelihood of someone being struck.

“Although there was some noteworthy lightning activity during those months, including the Washington Monument being struck by lightning, these months were relatively tame from a thunderstorm perspective,” Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist, explains in a blog post. “As an example of the decrease in lightning, June 2019 had only three days when the NLDN detected fewer than 1 million lightning events. June 2020 had 15 such days!”

This is obviously good news. Fewer deaths are always good news. However, it’s possible that the pandemic is actually skewing the numbers a bit, and not in a good way. Because much of the tracking of lightning-related deaths is done via news reports, the incredible deluge of pandemic coverage (as well as election news) may mean that lightning deaths are getting less attention in the news cycle and, therefore, not being tallied.

As far as what you can do to protect yourself, staying indoors during lightning-producing storms is obviously a good idea, and if you absolutely have to be outside, avoid tall objects like trees as well as wide-open areas which may make you the easiest route for a bolt of electricity to take. Stay safe out there.