One of my good friends was struck by lightning several years ago.
Getting struck by lightning is one of my biggest trepidations. It’s probably in part because I live in Florida, a place many consider the Lightning Capital of the United States.
Florida ranks number one in lightning deaths — where 10 to 13 people are killed by lightning each year and 30 are injured.
More than 25 million bolts of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes hit the United States every year.
On a national scale, about 75 people are killed by lightning annually, and 600 others are injured.
Did you know lightning kills more people in the United States than tornadoes and hurricanes combined?
Unfortunately, lightning remains very unpredictable and very little understood. Meteorologists and other weather scientists continue working on ways to predict and detect lightning — but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to lightning forecasting.
That’s part of the reason so many people die or are injured by lightning, because we simply aren’t able to know when and where lightning will hit.
Thankfully, my friend Nicole survived being struck by lightning. But many others aren’t so lucky.
Struck By Lightning During Pregnancy: A Survivor’s Story
Nicole, who worked outdoors at a Florida theme park, was on her way to shelter when she was struck by lightning.
Here is Nicole’s story…
Q: How bad was the weather overhead when you were hit by lightning?
A:”It was overcast and dark. The rain slowed to a sprinkle. There was intermittent lightning, but nothing seemingly close.”
Q: Did you feel any sensations (hair rising, etc.) right before being hit?
Q: Do you recall the strike?
A: “I recall briskly walking with my umbrella in my hand. Then I saw a bright light around me and I looked over and my umbrella was on the ground.”
Q: What were your first thoughts after being hit?
A: “I think my thoughts went from ‘what just happened?’ to ‘am I ok?!’ When I reached my destination I told coworkers what just happened. Some ignored me, but it wasn’t until one of them asked if my unborn baby was ok when my thoughts changed to concern about him. That was when I fell apart.”
Q: Were you taken to the hospital for first aid/emergency care?
A: “At first my boss wanted me to continue working, sweeping and mopping the stage immediately when I arrived. I went backstage in tears and called my husband. He was just as concerned. At this point I hadn’t felt my baby move at all since the incident. From there I called my OBGYN [obstetrician/gynecologist] and they said I need to get to the ER [emergency room] as soon as I can. I was terrified. I wanted to go straight to the hospital, but my employer said I have to go to their first aid to be evaluated, and if they feel it’s necessary then they would call an ambulance. While I was there, my heart started feeling funny and they called an ambulance.”
Q: What was your psyche like after being hit? Were you afraid to go outdoors again? Afraid of storms?
A: “Yes. My body would jump involuntarily when I heard lightning crash. I was terrified when I had to work outside during lightning. It was all subconscious. I’m a very rational person and I couldn’t rationalize that I’m going to be ok. I didn’t get over that feeling for about a year.”
Q: Are there any effects you still feel from the lightning strike?
A: “There’s no telling what could’ve happened from that lightning strike. My health had deteriorated from that point. Doctors have said that the lightning could be the cause. My son, with whom I was pregnant at the time, has an unexplained medical phenomenon. He’s had episodes where his heart and breathing stop, seemingly out of nowhere. Neurologists, cardiologists, and every other specialty has evaluated him. I’ve had to do CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] on him 3 times. This last time he stopped breathing I performed CPR and got him back to a responsive state. He was fine for a moment and then he slipped right back into non-responsive. I was able to resuscitate him as the paramedics arrived. He has a heart monitor implant in his chest currently — just in case it happens again. Doctors are completely baffled, but the correlation with the lightning is one of the theories.”
Q: Are there any other thoughts you wish to share about your experience?
A: “My heart goes out to all of the people who have been hit by lightning. The more I learn about it, the more I realize that the real effects aren’t immediate. If you are hit, even by a side splash, get checked by a professional.”
Outdoor Lightning Safety Tips
As Nicole says, if you are hit by lightning, you should definitely seek medical attention right away.
Of course, the hope is to avoid getting struck by lightning altogether.
The scary reality is that it isn’t always easy to avoid lightning, especially if you work outside (as Nicole did) or find yourself in the middle of an open area when a lightning storm emerges right over your head — as recently happened to me during an outdoor event.
So, how can you protect yourself from lightning if you’re stuck outdoors during a storm?
Here are some last-resort lightning safety tips that may help keep you safe:
- Do not lie flat on the ground.
- Never use an isolated tree as shelter.
- Avoid using overhanging cliffs or rocky overhangs for shelter.
- Get out of any bodies of water, including ponds, lakes, and pools and leave the area.
- Don’t stand near anything that conducts electricity, including power lines, barbed wire fences, etc.
- If you’re in open field and have no shelter anywhere, crouch — but only as the very last resort.
More Info About Being Struck By Lightning
- How To Avoid Getting Struck By Lightning Inside Or Outdoors
- National Weather Service Lightning Safety Tips
- Lightning Deaths From The Last 10 Years Mapped
- Lightning Fatalities: Avoid Being One Of These Numbers
- Intellicast Lightning Strike Map
- Top 5 Lightning-Prone States