Why lightning strikes a person and how to escape from it

(ORDO NEWS) — Lightning rarely strikes people directly, but that doesn’t mean you’re safe during a big storm. Understanding the mechanisms by which lightning can strike a person will help you ensure your own safety and protect loved ones.

The US National Weather Service spoke about why lightning sometimes strikes people and what to watch out for.

Direct hit

A person directly struck by lightning becomes part of the electrical discharge channel. Most often, direct strikes occur in open spaces. Such cases are very rare, but at the same time much more life-threatening than other mechanisms of lightning strike.

In a direct impact, some of the current is usually dissipated over the surface of the skin (this phenomenon is called “overlapping”), while the remaining electricity passes through the cardiovascular and nervous system.

Overlapping discharge can cause burns to the victim, but the main danger lies in the electricity that will pass through the torso. The chances of survival after a direct lightning strike depend on the speed of first aid and the amount of current.

Side flash

A side flash occurs when lightning hits a tall object, after which part of the current jumps to a lower object, such as a person. In other words, the victim will create a short circuit.

Lateral flashes usually occur if the victim is less than a meter away from the object that was struck by the lightning. It is because of this that experts do not recommend hiding from rain or hail under the crowns of trees.

Step voltage

A step voltage is created when the current from a lightning strike dissipates across the earth’s surface.

Anyone who is on the street at the time of the strike can become a victim of this phenomenon, and the probability of serious (including fatal) injury is directly proportional to the distance between the person and the lightning strike point.

In addition, step voltage can affect the underground floors of buildings due to conductive materials. Due to the fact that step voltage covers a much wider area than other lightning strike mechanisms, it leads in the number of injuries and deaths caused.

An interesting fact: stepping voltage is also observed at sea, but fish do not always die from lightning strikes.

Despite the fact that water is a good conductor of electricity, the current dissipates over the surface of the sea without penetrating deep into the water. However, if a marine animal decides to surface at the wrong moment, it can also suffer.

Contact lesion

Lightning can travel long distances through wires and other metal surfaces. By itself, metal does not attract lightning, but creates an excellent conductive channel. People who die from being struck by lightning while in a building most often become victims of the contact mechanism.

It doesn’t matter where you are: any metal object, be it wires, sockets, shower faucets or sewer pipes, is potentially dangerous.


Streamers are also known as filaments of electrical discharges: they can be observed before the strike, when lightning “forks” into many small branches. If a person is caught by one of the streamers, they could be seriously injured or killed by the discharge, even though the electrical circuit has not been fully formed.


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