They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but “they” obviously know nothing. I don’t even know who “they” are. Nowadays, meteorologists tend to agree that some places are far more prone to be hit by lightning repeatedly than others. However, it’s not always the places with the most strikes that see the most deaths by lightning. And on average 100 people get killed by lightning every year in America – on one day last year (July 7th), three people died in unrelated lightning strikes. One was on a beach in New Jersey, one in his front yard in Kansas and one just stepping out of his front door in Illinois. It happens more than you’d think!
So, say you’re an astraphobe, i.e. you’re scared of lightning, which states are best avoided? We’ve taken data from the National Weather Service to bring you the Top 10 States to avoid if you’re scared of lightning.
Let’s start with home of the Rockies, Colorado. As you look at the statistics for the number of strikes Colorado receives, it seems way down the league from some of the other states. With average yearly flashes of 517,539 it’s only 17th on the list for regularity, and when it comes to strikes per sq mile of state, it’s only 32nd!So why does it appear on the list of ” Most dangerous states“? Maybe because there are 394 recorded deaths and injuries for the state! Yup, when it comes to death by lightning, Colorado’s stats are impressive. There were 24 deaths from 2002 through 2011, which made it the second most deadly state in that time period. When it came to deaths per million people, it also came 2nd.For a state with such low occurrences of lightning, that’s a high mortality rate. It might be because so much of Colorado is mountainous – if you’re caught on an open mountain top during a lightning strike, it’s a pretty grim situation. So if you’re visiting Colorado and you’re not keen on lightning, stay away from those mountains!
Next up, we have the “Show Me State” – home to both gentle rolling hills and the Ozark mountains. In some ways, it’s the opposite to Colorado being 4th on the number of overall strikes 1997-2011, but with a relatively low death rate. 2012 saw no deaths at all and 16 between 2002 and 2011. It’s also 7th on flashes per square mile, so there’s a good chance that if you moved to Missouri you’d see some lightning action. But if you’re lucky, you won’t die from it! Especially if you hang out in the lower regions of the state.
And now onto Missouri’s neighbor, Arkansas which shares the Ozarks with Missouri. The state’s topography is widely varied, from its highest point at 839m (Magazine Mountain), to just 17m at the Louisiana border. With 7 lightning deaths between 2002 and 2011, it’s only 14th on the death per population chart, despite being the 5th most prone to strikes on the strikes per square mile chart. So, a mixed performance from a mixed state. What else would you expect from somewhere so varied that it has a reputation for hillbillies yet also produced a president? Arkansas is never predictable!
Here’s another Mid-West state, made famous by the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in 1955. The “Sooner State” lies mostly on the Great American Plain, but also has a few small mountain ranges. It’s a cultural melting pot, with more than 25 Native American languages spoken, as well as immigrants from Germany and the UK.
The state is known for its thunderstorms and where thunder goes, lightning follows! It’s 3rd on the list of overall strikes for 1997-2011, with a yearly average of 1,055,748 strikes. But there were only 4 deaths between 2002 and 2011 and only one in 2012 (Ray Marshall, in his driveway). So that’s a pretty low ratio of deaths per strike! Clearly, the people of Oklahoma are well versed on how to survive a lightning strike.
This is a strange one – it’s listed as the second most dangerous state when it comes to lightning strikes, with 732 recorded deaths and injuries. But it’s only 31st on the table when it comes to the number of strikes per square mile, and it’s annual average is a relatively tame 300,955. It’s also number 30 on the list of deaths per million people, based on only 6 deaths between 2002 and 2011. And none at all last year! So why so many deaths and injuries?
It probably has something to do with something that happened in Leslie (Ingham County) in August 1975. Large numbers of people were gathered at a campground, when lightning struck, injuring 90 of them. Being outside when lightning strikes is a dangerous occupation, so all the outdoor pursuits offered by the Great Lakes may have contributed to the large proportion of injuries there. The Government of Michigan advises sheltering in a valley or ravine and avoiding tall trees if lightning threatens to strike. It also advises not staying in a boat or swimming if you’re caught in a lightning storm, but that’s not too helpful if you’re already out on the lake. Basically, check the forecast before you go!
But it’s less likely that you’ll be hit by lightning in Michigan than in 30 other states, so it’s probably not worth worrying too much about. Enjoy your outdoor vacation!