Lightning can strike someone in many ways; however, three ways are the most common. The first, and most well-known, the direct strike, often occurs in the open and can be the most deadly. A side flash occurs when lightning transfers from taller objects, such as trees, into people. Lastly, with a ground current strike, the electricity travels along the ground, spreading over a large area. Ground currents cause the most lightning deaths and injuries.
When lightning strikes a person, electrical currents flow through the cardiovascular and nervous systems and over the skin's surface. The serious burns that most people associate with victims of lightning strikes are rare.
The nervous system and muscle tissue often sustains the most damage, sometimes with nerve and brain injury. When lightning travels through the cardiovascular system, it can cause the victim's heart to stop. It also can result in serious muscle damage as well as concussion-like symptoms. These symptoms often take longer to show up and appear as irritability and personality changes, inattentiveness or forgetfulness and severe headaches.
If you witness someone get struck by lightning, here's what to do: If it is safe to do so, call 911 then check for consciousness and provide first-aid.
If the victim is unconscious and not breathing, begin CPR and use an automated external defibrillator if one is available. These acts may be critically important to keep the person alive until more advanced medical care arrives. Regardless of whether someone appears injured or not, any lighting strike victim should be seen by medical professionals.
It's important to stay safe during a thunderstorm. If you see a crack of lightning or hear a peal of thunder, take refuge inside a closed structure, such as a building or car. If you are stuck in the middle of a field, get as low to the ground as possible. If you are on a lake or swimming or boating, at the first sound of thunder get out of the water. Lake or pool water is a great conductor and you are likely to be the highest point around, in viting a strike. Lastly, although it may seem obvious, avoid hiking above or around the tree line during a thunderstorm.
Before you head to the basement for every thunderstorm, here is a comforting fact: According to the National Weather Service, lightening has killed only sixteen people in Vermont since 1959.
Non-fatal lightning strikes are more frequent, injuring an average of four hundred people per year across the country, but driving to work every day is still much more dangerous.
Although being hit by lightning is a rarity, the psychological and physical problems that victims suffer can be serious. Don't take the chance, and enjoy the wetter and louder parts of summer from safe cover.