Meteorologists often describe lightning as nature’s fireworks. On Wednesday evening, in many states across the Lower 48, the sky was aglow with natural and man-made fireworks, but in some cases, the combination placed spectators in great danger.

Chicago’s WGN reports that lightning strikes injured three people in two separate Fourth of July fireworks displays. A 20-year-old man and 3-year-old girl were critically injured about 55 miles southwest of the city in the town of Sheridan. In Chicago itself, a woman was “seriously injured” on Lake Shore Drive.

Thunderstorms erupted in a large ring around an intense heat dome centered in the heartland. Hot and humid air fueled towering storms that became prolific lightning producers.


Lightning detected in 24 hours ending at 11:44 a.m. July 5. (LightningMaps.org)

A quick Twitter search revealed lightning appearing in fireworks shows in at least 10 states. (A collection of posts is attached below.)

Kevin Kloesel, director of Oklahoma’s Climatological Survey and an expert on lightning safety, said that in some cases the lightning was far enough in the distance not to pose a significant threat. If a storm is at least 15 to 18 miles away, that’s the industry-standard “safe distance,” he said. He also mentioned that some lightning-fireworks photos that appear on social media are fakes.

But overall, he said, it was “frustrating” that so many jurisdictions put on fireworks shows when storms were present. “I just don’t think these local jurisdictions have thought about ramifications if you have a lightning strike on your watch,” he said.

Beyond the physical dangers, Kloesel said, the cost of settling a lightning strike lawsuit can be in the neighborhood of $10 million.

While event organizers and spectators are most deterred by heavy rain, lightning can strike several miles away from rain, sometimes even farther, which can lead to a false sense of security.

Lightning detection and storm-tracking technology can help prevent lightning accidents, he said. “It’s time people take advantage of this information,” Kloesel said. “It’s frustrating that we have this expertise and that it’s not being used. There’s no longer any excuse for someone to be struck by lighting at a fireworks show.”

Colorado

Florida

Illinois

Mississippi

New Jersey

My daughter, Morgan, caught this amazing video! As usual , amazing job Barrington!!

Posted by Diana Karley on Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Pennsylvania

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas