Most of us have seen lighting dance through the sky, counting the seconds that pass before we hear thunder in order to see how close we are to that deadly charge. While thousands of people are struck by lightning each year, only a fraction are fatally injured. Yet for these survivors, the effects of a lightning strike are debilitating and last for decades. Here’s why:
A lightning strike is a massive electrical discharge between the atmosphere and an earth-bound object. A lightning bolt can heat the surrounding air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s five times hotter than the sun—and can contain up to 300kV of energy. This brief video explains how lightning forms:
How Can We Survive A Lightning Strike?
When you think about all the power, heat and electricity that comprise a lightning bolt, it is hard to imagine anyone surviving a strike. Yet most people do survive, in part because lightning rarely passes through the body. Instead, a “flashover” occurs, meaning that the lightning zips over the body, traveling via ultra-conductive sweat (and often rainwater), which provides an external voltage pathway around the body. When people do die from a lightning strike, it is usually due to an electrical discharge-induced heart attack.
The Effects Of A Lightning Strike On The Body
A body hit by lightning will show various signs of trauma. Like a gunshot, a lightning strike causes both an exit and entrance wound, marking where the current both entered and left the victim. Lichtenberg scarring, which outlines ruptured blood vessels, frequently covers the body in odd, almost beautiful, spiderweb patterns (as seen in the images below).