Hundreds of injuries also result annually from direct and indirect lightning strikes, ranging from minor electrocution to burns, blindness, hearing loss and permanent disability. It is at least an occasional threat across most of the country.
Ordinarily, the United States would average about three or four lightning deaths by the second week of June, but none has been reported this year.
“Previously, the latest first fatality of the year occurred 10 years ago on May 23, 2011,” John Jensenius, a lightning safety ambassador with the National Weather Service, told The Washington Post.
Last year, five people had died from lighting strikes by June 7, although there is some question about the accuracy of 2020 numbers because of the pandemic.
A long-term average of 41 people die from lightning strikes each year in the United States, but that number has been continuing to trend downward thanks in part to increased awareness, safety campaigns, and growing accessibility of weather forecasts and warnings. A 10-year average is closer to 20 people killed by lightning.
Numbers of killed were as high as several hundred per year as recently as the 1940s and 1950s in the United States. High tolls are still common in some other countries.
Lightning fatalities don’t tend to receive the media attention that deaths from other disasters such as tornadoes or hurricanes do, because the death tolls, while tragic, are comparatively lower during individual events. In 2018, only 10 Americans were killed by tornadoes, but 21 people perished from lightning.
Men are struck three to four times as frequently as women. In 2016, there were 40 lightning fatalities nationwide; nine of the victims were women.
The greatest clustering of lightning fatalities is, predictably, correlated with areas where lightning and outdoor activities are most common — the South and the mountains are particular hot spots. Any place that gets thunderstorms can be dangerous, so it’s important to keep abreast of weather conditions when planning outdoor activities or recreation.
Some metrics suggest that Oklahoma may have recently overtaken Florida as the nation’s lightning capital, but most data still indicates the Sunshine State holds top spot. In many years, Florida leads the tally of those killed by lightning.
Farther north, four were killed in New York State in 2016. There were also fatalities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia. Despite a shorter storm season in these locations, lightning still poses significant danger.
Last August, two men were struck by lightning and killed in North Carolina when they were outdoors cutting down trees in the wake of Hurricane Isaias. Radar data showed a 40,000-foot thunderstorm overhead at the time. A 62-year-old man was killed in California in 2015 when he was outdoors checking on his home during a thunderstorm.
July is typically the peak month for lightning fatalities in the United States, with June and August right behind. While we can hope this record-breaking streak of no fatalities continues, history tells us it won’t.
Ian Livingston contributed to this report.