There’s a plethora of weather and folk ‘lore’ about thunderstorms and lightning but I’m afraid most of it is utter rubbish! “ Lightning never strikes twice in the same place,” is probably the most commonly heard and held piece of lore about lightning. Tell that to someone who spends any time in the Empire State Building in New York which gets struck by lightning around 23 times a year on average!
It has been estimated that 2000 thunderstorms are occurring around the earth at any given moment. In the USA 73 people are killed every year on average and over 300 are injured by lightning strikes. This makes it the most lethal weather related hazard in North America; only 68 are killed by tornadoes and a mere 16 by hurricanes!
Here in the UK thunderstorms are less common, but the area that receives most is Eastern England. In fact the area along the River Trent Valley experiences 15 to 20 thunderstorms on average each year. But don’t let this worry you too much. The actual chances of being struck by lightning have been calculated at 1 in 700,000!
Summer is when most thunderstorms occur and late afternoon is the most common time. In this season and at this time of day the input of heat from the sun is at its greatest, producing thermal up-currents that develop deep cumulonimbus clouds.
In these cumulonimbus clouds electrical charges build up in the ice particles and water droplets, and when the positive and negative charges are great enough to overcome the resistance of the air a massive electrical spark or ‘lightning stroke’ occurs.
Surprisingly, most deaths by lightning occur on a Sunday, and men are 4 times more likely to be struck than women! I’m sure this has no religious or testosterone related cause; it’s probably due to the fact that more people are out and about in the open at the weekend and they’re more likely to be men. I hope none of this has ‘shocked’ you or come like a ‘bolt from the blue’. But if you play golf bear all this in mind the next time you’re on the course with deep, dark cumulonimbus clouds growing around you; and keep your number 7 lightning conductor safely in its bag!