Striking away lightning myths

Quick Facts

As temperatures warm up, more time is being spent outside, especially on the water for summer vacation.

Whether you are floating the river, hanging out on the lake, or going to the beach, it is important to know safety precautions to one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States.

1126pm- A double cloud to ground lightning strike, 30 miles SW of the FOX23 News SkyView Network camera at KRMG at 71st/Yale. Storms slowly weakening, Live radar on

Posted by FOX23 Chief Meteorologist James Aydelott on Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lightning is one of the least understood weather phenomena.

There are many lightning myths that you should be aware of:

Lightning is a discharge of electricity between positively and negatively charged particles in the atmosphere. It can occur in the cloud and also between the cloud and the ground.

How strong is this discharge of electricity?

Think about your house: the typical current that is in houses is around 120 Volts and 15 Amps; a lightning strike is about 300 million Volts and 30,000 Amps meaning that a lightning strike could light a 100-watt light bulb for about 3 months or a fluorescent bulb for 12 months.

Not only is lightning very powerful, but it is also very hot.

As lightning moves through the atmosphere, the discharge of electricity heats up the air to around 5000° F. This is five times hotter than the sun!

In 2016, someone was fishing in the Arkansas River when lightning struck him.

Understanding the different ways to stay safe, how one could be struck, and what to do, are key and could save a life.

Planning ahead includes knowing the forecast and knowing where a safe place is if a thunderstorm threatens your plans. While outside, if the sky looks like a thunderstorm is approaching, it is best to go ahead and go inside.

If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

Getting inside and away from doors/windows is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting struck by lightning.

It is also important to remember once the storm clears, it is not necessarily safe to go outside. It is safe to go outside 30 minutes AFTER the last clap of thunder or the last lightning strike.

There are 5 different ways to get struck by lightning:

A Direct Strike

A direct strike occurs when a person becomes part of the main discharge channel. This typically happens when people are in open areas.

A portion of the current moves along and just above the skin while another portion moves through the body via the nervous or cardiovascular system.

Example of a direct strike
Example of a direct strike

A Side Flash

This type of strike happens when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and a piece of the current jumps from the taller object to the victim.

The person is considered a “short circuit” with some of the energy discharge.

Example of Side Flash Lightning
Example of Side Flash Lightning

Ground Current

When lightning hits a tall object, the current that is moving through the object will spread out along the ground, anyone outside near lightning could be a victim of this type of strike.

Example of Ground Current Lightning
Example of Ground Current Lightning

The lightning current enters the body at the point closest to the original lightning strike and leaves the body at the point farthest from the original strike after moving through the nervous or cardiovascular system.

Example of Ground Current Lightning v2
Example of Ground Current Lightning v2


Lightning can travel along wires or other metal objects. Although metal does not attract lightning, it does provide a path for the lightning to follow.

If a thunderstorm is moving through, it is important to stay away from windows, landlines, and to not be in a shower or bath. The old wives’ tale turns out to be true!

Whether inside or outside, it possible to get struck by lightning through this current.

Example of Conduction Lightning
Example of Conduction Lightning


This type of strike is not as common as the others, but still possible.

When the main channel discharges, the surrounding channels discharge as well, even if not connected to the mainline.

Example of Streamer Lightning
Example of Streamer Lightning

Test your knowledge about lightning HERE.

Want more information about lightning? Feel free to check out some of the other things you can learn about lightning here or check out this website put together by the National Weather Service and NOAA.

More myths and facts about lightning and lightning safety can be found here: Lightning Myths and Facts