Lightning is an electric spark discharged in the atmosphere within a thundercloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. All thunderstorms produce lightning, and most people know that these bolts have a deadly force, however, some people are unaware of their ability to strike outside of the rain area. Lightning has been known to touchdown more than 10 miles away from the rainfall area. Lightning bolts are generally six to eight miles long but can easily travel anywhere from 25 to 40 miles horizontally before turning towards the ground. In 2020, a lightning bolt was tracked as it traveled from the central coast of Texas to southern Mississippi which is a total of 477 miles!
Lightning is one of the most dangerous features of a thunderstorm, but since deaths generally occur one at a time, the danger of lightning is typically underestimated and misunderstood. The first step in evaluating whether you may be in danger due to lightning would be the moment you become aware of a storm. The sound of thunder [thunderbolt cracking] indicates that you are in immediate danger. When you can hear a storm, it is within two to 12 miles away. The wide range of possible detection can be attributed to the many factors that can affect your ability to detect sounds, such as wind speed, wind direction, terrain, ambient noise, and the origin of the return stroke. The forward and backward reach of lightning exceeds your ability to hear the corresponding thunder. When the leading edge of a thunderstorm is within 10 miles, you are easily within the lightning’s striking distance and are at risk. In fact, many lightning deaths and injuries occur with clear skies directly overhead. Lightning can travel over the surface of the ground, creating a larger risk of injuring you, since the actual bolt does not have to come in direct contact with your body. The ground surface can be lethal within a 60-foot radius or more from the point of contact. This lethal radius applies even if the contact point is a grounding rod.
Approximately 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur annually in the U.S., which is the equivalent of under one per second and about 100 per second occur worldwide.
If your hair starts to stand on end, react quickly to get yourself out of harm’s way since this means that charged particles are starting to use your body as a pathway.
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