It’s that time of year when almost every hot summer day ends with a thunderstorm, bringing with it loud clasps of rumbling and flashes of lightning. The worst part of all, naturally, is one being struck by lightning, which might make for a good story to grab the attention at parties, but certainly not worth the actual experience.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, among the individuals fatally struck by lightning in the U.S. each year, gals have an edge over guys because males are five times more likely than females to be struck by lightning. Also, people aged 15–34 years account for almost half of all lightning strike victims (41%). (We old timers are the ones either in the closet or in beds with pillows over our heads.)
Not all strikes are on people standing under a tree, since about one-third (32%) of lightning injuries occur indoors. This is mostly due from touching electrified water while cleaning or bathing, so it’s wise to hold off on that daily shower until the storm passes.
July, of course, is the peak season for lightning strikes, and statistics even have it down to the time of day: Individuals being struck by lightning usually happens between the hours of noon and 6 p.m.
The southeastern states are most at risk. Lightning generally decreases from the southeast to the northwest, except for a few places such as the Rocky Mountains, where topography causes regular thunderstorms during the summer. Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas have the most lightning deaths and injuries. Florida is considered the “lightning capital” of the country, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries over the past 50 years (compared to 23 unprovoked fatal alligator attacks between 1948 and 2016 – yes, there are figures for those terrors, too).
This statistic might make you feel safer: Though lightning strikes the earth more than eight million times a day, only 35 people in the whole U.S. are killed by lightning each year. For golfers, however, I would not follow legendary golf pro Lee Trevino’s advice: “If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.”
Those that have been struck and lived to tell about it have amazing stories. In 2009, Jim Lamey was showering inside his Pennsylvania home when a bolt of lightning, shaking his entire house, connected with his water pipes, consequently zapping him. The strike threw Jim out of the tub, knocking him out, though his head was still hanging over the tub. Luckily, his son was nearby to save Jim from drowning. However, six years later, he was struck a second time through the sink while doing the dishes. The strike knocked him unconscious, and he later woke up in a chair with stomach pain, unsure of how he got there. Luckily, Jim survived both strikes with no lasting injuries, other than the scars from the burns the strikes caused.
As the official Guinness World Record holder, Roy Sullivan is recognized as having been struck by lightning more than any other person. Roy’s odds of being struck were certainly raised by the fact that he was a park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He spent ample time outdoors and was struck multiple times while on duty. One of the strikes, amazingly, led to Sullivan’s hair being set on fire. This caused Roy to believe that the forces of nature were conspiring against him. It was reported that at one point, Roy, believing that a cloud was chasing him, began to run away, but he ended up being struck by lightning anyway. Sadly, in 1983, Roy died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His suicide had nothing to do with the lightning strikes, however. It was apparently the result of an unrequited love.
Melvyn Roberts of South Carolina made headlines in 2011 for being struck by lightning six times, and by 2015, he claimed to have been struck five more times. The occasions included while Roberts was sitting on a porch and twice while riding on a lawnmower. His wife makes sure she is standing far away from him whenever there is a storm because, she says in a matter of fact tone, “Someone has to call for emergency.”
One of the more legendary cases on this list, Walter Summerford was first struck in 1918, while serving as a major in World War I, knocking him off his horse. After serving, the British major moved to Vancouver, where, during a fishing outing in 1924, lightning struck a nearby tree, connecting with Walter through the ground. In 1930, he was walking through a park, where, you guessed it, he was struck for a third time.
Two years after this third strike, Walter died and was buried. But the story didn’t end there. Four years after he was buried, a streak of lightning cracked his gravestone, marking the fourth time Walter had been struck.
I have no doubt that Walter delights in telling that story over and over to all the newcomers on their arrival in Heaven.
Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.