Storm chasers (copy)

Lightning explodes over the Nogales Airport in August 2017.

With monsoons kicking into full swing, the Herald/Review is answering all your questions related to lightning and how to stay safe from the dangerous strikes.

Lightning Fast Facts

The most common type of lightning is intra-cloud lightning, or lightning that happens within one cloud and often lights up the sky.

Thunder is the sound that results from a shock wave created by the rapid heating and then cooling of air when lightning forms.

Since the sound of thunder travels about one mile in five seconds, counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder and dividing by five will tell you how many miles the lightning is from you. If the time between thunder and lightning is 10 seconds, the storm is two miles away.

There are about 25 million lightning strikes in the United States every year.

“The energy from one lightning flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months.”

Lightning can reach 50,000° Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Around 100 people were killed by lightning in France between 1753 and 1786 from being in a bell tower during a thunderstorm, since it was believed that ringing church bells would repel lighting.

Lightning Strikes — By the Numbers

Lightning severely injures hundreds of people in the United States every year, and kills around 50.

Lightning strikes do not occur only in the middle of thunderstorms; they can reach more than 10 miles away from rainfall, and more than half of lightning-caused deaths occur after the storm has passed.

Eight fatalities have resulted from lightning strikes so far in 2019 in the United States.

Most Arizona lightning strikes occur from June to September.

2015 was the last time there was a lightning fatality in Southern Arizona, which happened in Benson.

Arizona averages over a half million lightning strikes a year.

Most lightning fatalities in Arizona and across the nation involve outdoor activity; the safest place to be during a storm is always indoors.

Safety: Fact vs. Fiction

Myth: If you’re caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should:

• crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.

Fact: Crouching doesn’t make you any safer outdoors. Run to a substantial building or hard-topped vehicle.

• lie flat on the ground.

Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.

• seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.

Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year

Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.

Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.

Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. It is safe to use uncorded and cell phones.

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.

Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.

Fact: The human body does not store electricity, and lightning victims require immediate medical attention. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim in order to give them first aid. Call 911 for help.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.

Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Sources: Ken Drozd, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service Tucson;,

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