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Lightning: Facts, Figures and Statistics

April 2014

By WeatherBug Meteorologists


While awe-inspiring and often photographed, vivid flashes of lightning also represent a grave danger. Sitting only behind floods, lightning strikes are the second most frequent weather-related killer in the United States.

Ranging from bolt temperature to the odds of being struck, the following list of lightning facts and statistics have been compiled. Be sure to check out "The Myths and Facts of Lightning" to gather additional information on this dangerous phenomenon.

  • Lightning is roughly 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • Striking with an average thickness of one to two inches, lightning can travel at speeds near 90,000 miles per second.
  • The average lightning bolt carries 30,000 amps of charge and more than 100 million volts of electric potential.
  • A typical strike of lightning is made up of three to five sequential strokes. It is because of the time in between these individual strokes (anywhere between 40 to 50 milliseconds) that lightning bolts appear to flicker.
  • On average, there are 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each year over the continental United States.
  • Every year, lightning results in more than $3 billion in damage across the United States.
  • The average lightning bolt is between 3 and 4 miles long. Seen over the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, the longest recorded bolt was 118 miles long.
  • Designed to serve as a lightning rod for the surrounding area, the Empire State Building is struck by lightning about 100 times per year.
  • On average, lightning strikes in the United States result in dozens of deaths per year.
  • The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime (presuming a lifespan of 80 years) is 1 in 10,000.
  • Lightning can strike away from a thunderstorm. Referred to as a "bolt from the blue," these strikes can occur anywhere from 10 to 25 miles away from the parent storm.
  • By counting the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the subsequent clap of thunder, you can determine how far away the storm is. Each 5 seconds of time is equivalent to one mile of distance. Thunder is seldom heard at distances more than 10 miles away from a lightning strike.

Make sure that you download the WeatherBug app on your smart phone before you head out on any outdoor activities. The mobile app now includes Spark Lightning Alerts, a GPS-based lightning detection feature providing you the location of the closest lightning strike, so you can Know Before the storm hits. Click here for the link to download.

Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.


Story Image: WeatherBug user Dean Reed took this picture of lightning strikes in Las Vegas.

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