Who Knew?

Jamie McFarlin

Roy Sullivan may not have been a fulminologist, but there is no one who could have said with more authority that, contrary to myth, lightning can and does strike the same place twice. In the case of Roy, the “place” repeatedly hit was his body. Over a 35-year career working as a forest ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Roy was struck seven times, earning him the nickname “Human Lightning Rod” and the record for human being struck most by lightning. It is fortunate for Roy that he was not a native of Florida, as Florida has both the most lightning strikes and lightning-related deaths of any state in the United States. In the world, however, Rwanda, Africa is considered the lightning capitol with two-and-a-half times more lightning than Florida.
Lightning is an interesting phenomenon. It is said to be somewhere in temperature around three to five times hotter than the surface of the sun, but only around an inch in diameter. Lightning commonly known as heat lightning is actually lightning that is occurring on the edges of a storm and is happening too distantly for thunder to be heard. An object, including a person, can be struck by lightning as far as 10 miles away from the storm. Two incredibly fascinating, elusive and still greatly puzzling forms of lightning are superbolt lightning, which occurs in the atmosphere and extends from clouds miles into space, and ball, or globe, lightning which is described as a long-lived floating, illuminated sphere that moves through the air close to the ground.
With the coming of spring, thunderstorms become a more expected occurrence, and with them lightning. The rule of counting seconds between flash and boom to reveal distance from the strike is based on the speed of light versus the speed of sound. In order to calculate in miles the space between you and the lightning, count the seconds between the strike of the lightning and the thunder it generates, and divide by five. Thunder can be heard up to around six miles away (or thirty seconds after a strike is observed). Once thunder can be heard, the distance is small enough to present a threat. FEMA advises that if you start to feel static on clothes or anytime hair starts to stand on end, there is immediate danger of being struck by lightning. Unfortunately, also contrary to a hilarious myth, neither the rubber on tires nor on your tennis shoes offer protection – better knock on wood.