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Lightning Strikes are Deadlier in the US this Year

Sep 13, 2016 05:50 AM EDT
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Lightning strike deaths are up by three times as much as tornado deaths, a new report said.

Data from the National Weather Service (NWS) show that as of today, Sept. 13, 35 people in the U.S. have died from lightning strikes in 2016 alone. This makes lightning even deadlier than tornadoes, which have only caused 12 fatalities in 2016 so far.

In 2015, the number of U.S. lightning fatalities was at 27, and since 2010, totals for the year have been in the 20s only. In 2009, however, fatalities reached 34, another year when lightning-related deaths surpassed deaths from tornadoes. The highest number of lightning strike fatalities was recorded in 2006, with deaths reaching 48.

According to John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist at the NWS, the increase in the number of deaths is partly due to people's lack of awareness about the dangers of lightning.

The latest lightning strike death was that of a man in Wisconsin, who died last week. In July and August, a total of 24 people died from lightning strikes - 12 people each month. While lightning strike deaths are typically high in July, the number of deaths in August has been unusually high and is said to be the deadliest since 2007.

Fridays are the deadliest day of the week for this year, Jensenius told Reuters. He added that it was unusual since the highest number of incidents typically happen on Saturdays and Sundays when people engage in outdoor activities.

For this year, Florida has recorded the most number of lightning deaths (7), followed by Louisiana (4) and New York (4).

About 10 percent of people who are struck by lightning are killed, the other 90 percent may suffer lifelong disabilities, NWS said. To avoid lightning strikes, experts advise people to stay indoors or inside a hard-topped vehicle.

"When you're struck, you have electricity moving either over or through your body," Jensenius told LiveScience. "The electricity typically goes through either the cardiovascular and/or the nervous system."

According to Jensenius, a lightning could stop a person's heart and cause cardiac arrest, which could lead to death. A lightning strike could also send tiny electrical impulses throughout the body. People who survive, however, will have problems with their memory.

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