A lightning storm is one of the most awe-inspiring phenomena in nature, and also one of the most dangerous. According to data gathered by various meteorological organizations, there are 25 to 40 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the U.S. alone every year, and probably 138 million strikes annually worldwide. This incredible figure does not even include the number of lightning flashes which remain within the clouds, and which are 5 to 10 times more numerous than ground strikes. It should therefore come as no surprise that an average of 50 people are killed, and perhaps 1000 injured by lightning in the U.S. yearly, with only floods accounting for more weather-related deaths. Wikipedia estimates that a person’s chance of being struck by lightning during their lifetime is 1 in 6250.
Interestingly enough, a very important part of the formation of lightning involves an electrical charge moving UP, not down. To explain how it works in simple terms, a strong negative charge in the bottom of a rain cloud attracts positive charges that are in the ground. The charges from the ground move upwards as far as possible into objects like trees, tall poles, buildings or even living beings. Then, a “stepped leader” moves downward from the negatively-charged cloud, searching for a path toward the ground; as it arrives closer, a “streamer” moves upwards from the positively-charged ground or grounded object. When these two opposite charges meet, we see the resulting lightning bolt. Thus, lightning is, according to Lightning Eliminators and Consultants, “nature’s attempt to equalize the voltage between storm clouds and the earth.”
Besides causing injury and death to humans and animals, lightning can cause extensive damage to private and commercial structures and property. Homeowners alone filed more than 200,000 claims for lightning damage every year, and the cost of claims can arrive at over $1 billion. Lightning is, for example, the leading cause of church fires in the U.S., with 30.2% of such fires resulting from lightning strikes according to the Insurance Information Institute. When lightning hits a residence or business, it can cause structural damage or destruction from the force of the strike (one bolt can carry up to 100 million volts of electricity) and/or from a resulting fire; can damage or destroy possessions, products and equipment; and can seriously damage or wipe out electronic equipment and systems. The latter can lead to the loss of important data and expensive downtime for a business, as well as the high cost of repairs or replacement.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from the dramatic consequences of lightning? See our next blog to find out!