Interesting Facts About Lightning

Lightning is an amazing and breathtaking sight to witness. At the same time it is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable of all natural phenomena. But how much do you really know about lightning? Even though scientists all over the world are gathering facts about lightning, dividing it into different types, measuring its voltage, monitoring temperature, and creating it in laboratories, it is still impossible to predict the behavior of every lightning bolt. Let’s look through some facts about lightning.

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    • At this very moment there are about 1800 thunderstorms.
    • Every year, the Earth experiences an average of 25 million lightning strikes during some 100,000 thunderstorms. That’s more than a hundred lightning bolts per second.
    • An average instance of lightning lasts about a quarter of a second and consists of 3-4 strikes.
    • You can hear thunder from about 12 miles from the starting point.
    • Lightning bolts travel at speeds of up to 60,000 miles per second.
    • The average length of a single lightning bolt is 2-3 miles.
    • A single lightning bolt travels through twisted paths in the air that can be as wide as one of your fingers or between six and ten miles.
    • The temperature of a typical lightning bolt can reach 50,000 F degrees – that is 5 times greater than the temperature of the surface of the Sun.
  • The energy contained in a single lightning strike can power a 100 Watt light bulb for 90 days.
  • “Lightning never strikes twice” unfortunately is a myth. Lightning can strike the same location many times.
  • Ancient Greeks believed that when a lightning strike hit the sea a new pearl appeared.
  • Trees sometimes can take direct hits from lightning and not get burnt – the electricity passes over their wet surface and goes straight into the ground.

Photo from Wikimedia

Photo from Wikimedia

Photo from Wikimedia by Silver Surfer

  • Glass forms when lightning strikes into sandy soil. After a storm you can find strips of glass in the sand.
  • If you have wet clothes on, lightning will do you less harm.
  • In March of 1991 a single six-hour storm stretching over Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri caused more than 15,000 lightning strikes. During the storm the skies were ablaze with almost constant lightning.
  • Lightning hits the Empire State Building (NY, USA) about 23 times a year.
  • Lightning strikes also occur on Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus.
  • The Aztecs believed that lightning accompanied the dead, splitting the earth and making its way into its depths.
  • In the Middle Ages it was believed that church bells expelled evil spirits. Thunder and lightning were regarded as diabolical, so during a thunderstorm monks tried to constantly ring the bells. As a result the victims of lightning very often were bell-ringers.
  • The irrational fear of lightning is known as keraunophobia. The fear of thunder is termed brontophobia.
  • There are from 100 to 1000 instances of ball lightning at the same time on Earth, but the chance you’ll see at least one in your lifetime is just 0.01%.

Photo by iratxo.foto

Photo by paul+photos=moody

Photo by ergates

Photo by iratxo.foto

Photo by Bemep

Photo by StormWlf

Deadly Facts

  • On average, about 200 people are killed by lightning in the United States every year.
  • The state of Florida holds the title of the “Deadliest State.” There are twice as many lightning casualties as in any other state. 10% of all people struck by lightning were in Florida at the time.
  • The chance to be killed by lightning is 1 in 2,000.000. You have the same chance dying from falling out of bed.
  • Never talk on the phone while a storm is breaking outside. Not only do cell phones “attract” lightning, but about 1% of all lightning deaths in the U.S. are a result of people talking inside the home on a corded phone during a thunderstorm.
  • About 71% of all people struck by lightning survive. The fatal cases are usually the result of cardiac arrest. However, those who survive often suffer from serious health and psychological problems like loss of memory or sensitivity, insomnia, impaired hearing, or constant pain.

Photo by iratxo.foto

Photo by Bjarke Freund-Hansen

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Photo by Ian Boggs


There are also lots of facts that scientists just cannot explain – for example  the seeming “addiction” of lightning to some places or even humans.

Park ranger Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times between 1942 and 1977: in 1942 the lightning burned his thumb and his leg, in July 1969  lightning burned his eyebrows, in July 1970 it burned his shoulder, in April 1972 it scorched his hair, in August 1973 it burned his legs, in June 1976 lightning hit his ankle and in June 1977 he suffered a seared breast and abdomen. Such a destiny let to psychological problems and depression and six years later, in September 1983, Sullivan committed suicide.

Photo by GRist001

Photo by Blaise Thirard

Photo by Andre Karwath aka Aka

Another weird story happened to a Bulgarian woman, Martha Maiko. In 1935, an American tourist, Randolph Eastman, during a thunderstorm asked to stay in her house until the storm ended. A week later they were married, but 2 months later the man was killed by lightning. Later Maiko remarried, this time to a Frenchman named Charles Mort. During their trip to Spain her second husband also was struck by lightning. The widow returned to Sofia and started therapy to heal from depression. Later on she married the doctor she was getting the treatment from. They were married in Berlin, but during a trip to France a lightning bolt hit the car they were driving. The third husband was killed on the spot. As far as the facts say, she was not married for a fourth time.

Photo by StormWlf

Photo by StormWlf

Photo from wikimedia

Photo by Stefano Merler (Merlo) and Monica Dallabona

No one to this day can explain a terrible tragedy that took place in Japan. A class of school students went on a trip. A school teacher told the class to hold onto a rope. Lightning struck and traveled through the rope, killing exactly half of the students. The oddest part is that each even-numbered child in the line was killed and none of the students in odd-numbered positions were even burned.

So even if you a fan of lightning be careful and remember that no one knows its behavior. If you just can’t live without watching the lightning maybe it would be better to purchase a plasma ball!

Photo by TechnoFrood

Photo by TechnoFrood

Join the discussion

  • If not careful plasma balls can actually cause harm too. If you touch it with wet hands, or if you hold your hand for a long amount of time, at a close distance it will arc and burn you.

    So be careful with those too!

      • matty and jack, Calling someone stupid when you fail to use proper punctuation and capitalization in admonishing them really makes you look like the one who is stupid. Using “u” for the word “you”, and “your” for “you are.” Correct form for that one is “you’re”. Also, in correct English, and I am assuming you are English by your usage of the word “mate”. You should know all two digit numbers should be spelled out. Not “30” but thirty… So, to simply put it… Don’t call people stupid.

  • after being struck by a lightening bolt and survived, i can attest it’s not a pretty experience. while preparing my kool-aid stand and awaiting thirsty tourists on key largo i was blasted a thunderbolt – it left my keds sneakers smoking on the sidewalk while my stand had been blown to ashes –wow!!!

      • I don’t know any information oh but.
        Every second, a large hurricane releases the energy of 10 atomic bombs.
        Storms can go up to 12 hours.
        Hurricanes are powerful with winds and rain.
        Hurricanes most fall in tropical islands.
        Hurricanes lose strength when they travel.
        The planet Jupiter has a hurricane which has been going on for over 300 years.
        Hurricanes may have a diameter of 400 to 500 milesMany hurricanes cause severe flooding.
        When there is a storm get out of pools.
        If you hear thunder leads to storms, sometimes
        Boom of lightning heats up the atmosphere.
        Pool, lake, ocean, or any body of water. Water conducts electricity that electricity can travel through water.
        Not all storm chasing is done on the ground.
        Thunder is caused by lightning.
        Lightning is a powerful burst of electricity that happens very quickly during a thunderstorm.
        Lightning is caused by an electrical charge in the atmosphere that is unbalanced.
        Lightning can occur inside clouds, between clouds and from clouds to the ground.
        There are bolts of lightning striking somewhere on Earth every second.
        Lightning contains millions of volts of electricity.
        At this very moment there are about 1800 thunderstorms.
        Glass forms when lightning strikes into sandy soil.

  • ” … No one to this day can explain a terrible tragedy that took place in Japan. A class of school students went on a trip. A school teacher told the class to hold onto a rope. Lightning struck and traveled through the rope, killing exactly half of the students. The oddest part is that each even-numbered child in the line was killed and none of the students in odd-numbered positions were even burned. …”

    Well, perhaps “no-one” can explain it, but I can.
    The odd numbered children were holding the rope with their right hands, and the even numbered children were holding it with their left hands.
    The strike affected each child equally, but the ones holding with their left hands had the current flow through their heart (left side of body) to the ground path made by their feet. This is well known amongst electricians and those working with potentially lethal currents; they never touch a potentially live object with their left hands.

        • hey that sounds obvious and logical if they were holding on with their left arm as you think.
          An idea that comes to mind is the old belief that Earth is even numbers and Heaven is odd numbers.
          Earth is number two and heaven is number three as it is wider than Earth and includes the Earth and sky.

    • This is amazing. I never have thought about it but must be a testament for polarity? The human spiritual treatment of energy. Thanks for the insight. Peace~ Cynthia

    • There were similar instances in the past.

      Madame la Comtesse of the Dechy of Posen related the following case.
      “During a storm which took place in the month of August 1901, lightning entered by a half-open door into a stable where there were twenty cows, and killed then. Beginning with that which was nearest the door, the second was spared, the third killed, the fourth was uninjured and so on. All the uneven numbers were killed, the others were not even burnt”.
      M. Elisec Duval of Criquetot l’Esneval (Seine-Inferieure) related a very remarkable case. On June 20, 1892, lightning fell on the telegraph poles of Havre and E’tretat. A dozen were thrown over, and the curious part is that every second one was knocked down.
      Another case of equal interest is here. On February 16, 1866, a thunderstorm descended upon a farm in the commune of Chapelle Largeau (Deux-Serves) and the circumstances attending its explosion are too remarkable to be overlooked. After a tremendous thunder clap, a young man who was standing near the farm saw an immense fireball touch the ground at his fee, but it did him no damage, but passed, still harmlessly though a room in the farmhouse in which there were nine persons. The only effect it produced was the flaring up of some matches upon the chimney-piece.
      It proceeded towards the stables, which were divided into two compartments. In one there were two cows and two oxen; the first cow, to the right of the entrance, was killed, the second was uninjured; the first ox was killed, the second was uninjured. The same effect was found to have been produced in the other compartment, in which there were four cows: the first and the third were killed, the second and fourth were spared; the odd numbers taken and the even numbers left.

  • I Am Ryan From Glasgow ( Scotland ), My Brother Got Shocked From Live Wire In His Bedroom. Houses Across From Us Had Been Demolished And We Had Mice For A While And At The Time He Went Too Plug His Playstation 3 Power Into The Wall He Was Shocked, Mice Had Chew Threw The Wire. He Instantly Wet Him Self Etc.. Blew Hole In His Palm about 1cm wide and like 4 mm Deep. Although Its Not Same As Lightening Bolt But Wasnt Pleasant Too See.


  • In response to ANON…. How does that explain that “none of the students in odd-numbered positions were even burned. …”?????

  • Has anybody heard of a “thunder stone”? I lived in Papau New Guinea when I was younger and after a lightening strike that split a tree nearby one of the local natives approached me and handed me a stone he said he found near the stone – he called it a malio stone – this was on the island of Bougainville in 1969. The stone is like a small smooth axe head – a charcoal color and fits in the palm of my hand. He said they found these stone sometimes in the tree struck by lightening and sometimes near the tree.

    Many years later I told this story to a friend from Bhutan and showed him the stone – he immediately recognized it as a “thunder stone” and turned to two of this Bhutanese friends who corroborated the story, adding the stone was special and held in high esteem in Bhutan.

    I have tried to learn more about the story of such stones – anybody know anything – contact my email.

    • Hi Andrew,

      That is very interesting; I am an archaeologist doing research into cultural perceptions of Neolithic edge-ground stone axes, so-named “thunder stones”, in historical and present-day Southeast Asia and haven’t yet come across such notions in PNG.

      If you would care to reply off-list I would be most interested in discussing your recollections of this incident.

      Thanks in advance, and best wishes
      Adam Brumm

      • Hi Adam I came across your comment when I was searching about this stone. I have such a stone and I really don’t know what to do with it. I was told that they are varuablle in India. I got it from my grandmother after lightning strikes one of her huts.

        • The mention and myths of these thunderstones are widespread, they are also sometimes known as sky stones/arrows/axes, storm stones, thunder teeth (etc). There appear to be a few more reports aswell;

          “A thunderstorm near Vicksburg, MS in 1930 resulted in some rather interesting hailstones. One had a solid piece of alabaster 3/4 inch across. Another was a live 8″ long gopher turtle, entirely encased in ice.”

          “In the London Times, Feb. 1, 1888, it is said that a roundish object of iron had been found, ‘after a violent thunderstorm’ in a garden at Brixton, Aug. 17, 1887.”

 is a website detailing the famous fall of stones in Siena (and others). As for what to do with them? I would hang on to it – how many other people can claim to have a thunderstone?

      • Well, My great great grandmother is believed to have found a similar stone immediately after a lightning strike near Kalimpong, Darjeeling, India and my grandmother still has one small and one palm sized exactly as andrew said. My granny said that the older people dug the site where the lightning strike in search of an axe. If someone could shed some light in this matter, that would be really helpful. I am a student of science currently in high school. Feel free to contact me.

    • i thought thunder stones were used to evolve pickachu’s and other electrik pokemans lol jkjk

  • lighting is cool cause it strikes sofastras a bilk ofan eye even if your the worldes fastes bickcily anting that is so fast lighting is faster.

  • lighting is so cool cause it is so fast so fast that you will konw when it will strikes i know when it will strikes it will strike when you say the number 1.

  • this is certainly helpful!! thanks a lot! i want some really awesome facts about lightning for my science chart and this will definitely help!

  • Every year, the Earth experiences an average of 25 million lightning strikes during some 100,000 thunderstorms. That’s more than a hundred lightning bolts per second.

  • Yes lightning travels from the ground an goes up, there’s a leader stroke frm de clouds which makes its way downward bt we are not able to see it, when this leadr stroke makes it way to earth, charged particles on earth makes its way upward, wen these both are connected ZAP!! There’s a lightning bolt, but it happens so quickly that we see it as tho its frm above

    • U r right, lightning can travel from the ground reason being that, the earth’s surface is full of protons and the bottom of the cloud is full of electrons,but its not always the case because we sometimes expeience cloud to cloud kind of lighting.

  • “The energy contained in a single lightning strike can power a 100 Watt light bulb for 90 days.”
    Someone has got their facts wrong. The energy contained in a single lightning strike can power a whole city for an entire year. That’s a fact to remember.

    • Too many unsubstantiated numbers. The wiki article on lightning — I think that was the article — says a bolt has an energy of 5 billion joules. A kiloWatt-hr is 3.6 million joules, so a bolt would be about 1.4 MW-hrs. This would be 14,000 100W bulbs for _one_ hour or one 100W bulb for 14,000 hours. No way is that a city for a year. A year is only about 8760 hours long. So we’re talking only two 100W bulbs for just under a year, if the 5 billion joules figure is correct.

      Any better figures?

  • I know where you can see ball lighting almost every time it storms at a certain place in the west. I grew up there and have seen it 5-6 times without looking for it. It is amazing.

  • When one looks at damage across the countryside caused by a Tornado or Cyclone it appears that funnel is like a giant spring that pounds down on one structure then recoils upward then pounces down on the next structure. Possibly the combined effects of electrical, magnetic and thermal forces on the mass of all the air and water and accumulated mass in the cloud itself.