Sept. 22, 2022 — Sonia Chavez was on the balcony of her midrise Dallas condominium when the unthinkable occurred: As she was filming a thunderstorm together with her cellphone, lightning struck her in a flash of blinding mild and searing warmth that knocked her off her ft.

The thunderbolt, which Chavez captured on movie, broken her eyes and left her with some cognitive, speech, and mobility points.

But someway, she survived.

“When it hit, it sounded like a bomb going off,” says Chavez, 38. “I felt this intense electric force that hit me hard, like a gut punch or whiplash. It was the biggest pain you could imagine. I remember seeing the electricity coming off my hands and seeing different colors — blue, then red, and then white — and there was ringing in my ears.

“I don’t remember much after that, but the next thing I knew I was in the closet of my apartment, pinching and scratching myself to see if I was dead or alive.”

As traumatic because the expertise was, Chavez is without doubt one of the fortunate ones. While she remains to be recovering from accidents attributable to the strike 18 months in the past, she lived to inform her story.

Many others struck by lightning don’t. And lightning fatalities are on the rise within the U.S., presumably resulting from a rise in extreme storms tied to world local weather change.

So far, the U.S. has recorded 17 lightning fatalities this 12 months, in line with the National Weather Service (NWS). That’s greater than the 11 that occurred by this time final 12 months and as many as had been seen in all of 2020.

“I do feel like I’ve been lucky,” says Chavez, who’s receiving bodily and speech remedy, in addition to ongoing remedies to deal with her imaginative and prescient loss from the strike. “I’ve had teams of people helping me, including my husband, who found me in the closet a half-hour after it happened [and] got me to the hospital.”

Aaron Treadway, a lightning specialist with the National Weather Service, explains that lightning-strike survivors like Chavez usually are not as uncommon as you would possibly assume. Indeed: Nine in 10 individuals struck by lightning survive the incident.

“On average around 300 people are struck by lightning each year, with roughly 10 percent of those being fatal injuries,” says Treadway. “For those who are struck and do not die, many have serious injuries.”

While lightning fatalities have been rising in recent times, they’re nonetheless properly beneath what they had been 20 years in the past, he says. Between 1970 and 2000, the common annual lightning loss of life tally was over 70, National Weather Service figures present.

“The reduction in fatalities [since 2000] is due to the success of the lightning safety campaign that many people and organizations have contributed to,” Treadway says. “These include NWS offices across the country and our many partners in the broadcast and print media, outdoor and sports organizations, emergency management officials, and other safety organizations.

“Sayings like ‘When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors’ or ‘See a Flash, Dash Inside’ for our deaf and hard-of-hearing community are easy to remember and apply, keeping people safe.”

Lightning Strikes: By the Numbers

The National Weather Service maintains an in depth web site of info on lightning strikes that gives a compelling overview of how, when, and the place individuals die throughout thunderstorms.

It affords a glimpse into the sorts of actions people had been engaged in on the time of deadly strikes, offering key clues to how greatest to keep away from dangerous behaviors throughout a storm.

For occasion, of the 17 lightning deaths to date this 12 months:

  • Five individuals had been struck throughout tenting journeys or visits to public parks.
  • Four had been killed whereas partaking in water sports activities: boating, jet snowboarding, or swimming.
  • Four had been hit as they had been working round the home: doing yard work, loading instruments right into a van, standing on a roof, and changing a window.
  • Four died whereas strolling a canine, flying a remote-control airplane in a area, fixing a truck on a freeway, and through Army coaching workouts.

The National Weather Service has additionally compiled a unprecedented on-line database of lightning survivors, together with detailed interviews, their tales, and the well being impacts they suffered.

Beyond these private tales, the National Weather Service has publicized a wealth of data on these big sparks of electrical energy within the environment that always strike the bottom.

According to the National Weather Service and different federal companies:

  • A typical lightning flash carries about 300 million volts. By comparability, a family present is 120 volts.
  • Lightning can warmth the air it passes by means of to 50,000 levels Fahrenheit. That’s 5 instances hotter than the floor of the solar.
  • Lightning strikes someplace within the U.S. 25 million instances every year on common.
  • Florida is the nation’s lightning capital, with the best common variety of cloud-to-ground strikes, ranked by flashes per sq. mile. The Sunshine State additionally has essentially the most fatalities of any state as a result of frequency of lightning and since most individuals are outside throughout the peak lightning season (June to August).
  • Florida sees 1.2 million strikes in a typical 12 months, overlaying 20 sq. miles. Next in line: Louisiana (875,136, 18.9 miles); Mississippi (768,126, 16.1 miles); Oklahoma (1.1 million-plus, 15.8 miles); and Arkansas (837,978, 15.7 miles).
  • Worldwide, the U.S. had the second most lightning strikes in 2021. Brazil was first.
  • Certain occupations carry the next danger for lightning strikes, together with these within the logging, building, utility, garden providers, and leisure industries, in line with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

National Weather Service officers have additionally collected a stunning record of lightning myths and info. They are:

  • Crouching down or mendacity flat on the bottom in a thunderstorm gained’t scale back your danger of being struck. You can nonetheless be weak to floor present from bolts that strike the earth close by. It’s higher to run to a constructing or car for shelter.
  • Lightning can strike twice in the identical place and infrequently does. The Empire State Building is hit 23 instances yearly, on common.
  • Even if it’s not raining outdoors you’ll be able to nonetheless be struck by a “bolt from the blue” — actually — as a result of lightning can strike 10 to fifteen miles from the middle of a storm.
  • Metal watches, jewellery, and private digital units corresponding to cellphones and transportable music gamers do NOT appeal to lightning.
  • Your mom was proper: Don’t stand below a tree throughout a storm. Being beneath a tree throughout a storm is the second-leading reason for lightning fatalities.

Why Are Fatalities Up and What Can You Do?

What’s behind the current enhance in deadly lightning strikes? Treadway says world local weather change is perhaps an element. But he notes scientists aren’t completely sure, partially as a result of they haven’t been monitoring the climate phenomenon for very lengthy.

“While a warming climate will produce more ingredients that are conducive to the development of thunderstorms, quantitatively, the period of record of ground-based lightning detection is fairly short,” he explains. “In order to say that there is a substantial increase in lightning coverage, scientists need to have a longer period of data to make those types of conclusions.”

But that analysis has proven that training and consciousness or dangers can assist scale back lightning fatalities general.

“Lightning doesn’t follow rules; it strikes where it wants to,” he says. “It is up to the public to take those safety precautions and reduce their risk of getting struck overall.”

With that in thoughts, National Weather Service officers advocate protecting the next security suggestions and knowledge in thoughts to scale back your danger throughout {an electrical} storm:

  • If you’ll be able to hear thunder, lightning is shut sufficient to strike you, so it’s best to search shelter in a constructing or hard-topped car with the home windows rolled up.
  • Wait half-hour after you hear the final crack of thunder earlier than going outdoors.
  • Stay off landline telephones, computer systems, and different electrical tools that put you in direct contact with electrical energy throughout a storm.
  • Avoid plumbing, together with sinks, baths, and taps.
  • Stay away from home windows and doorways, and don’t enterprise onto porches or balconies.
  • Don’t lie on or lean in opposition to concrete partitions.
  • Avoid elevated areas corresponding to hills, mountain ridges, and peaks in the event you’re caught outside and may’t search shelter.
  • Don’t lie flat on the bottom, and stay away from bushes or objects that may conduct electrical energy (like steel or wire fences, energy strains, and windmills).
  • Don’t swim or go close to ponds, lakes, or different our bodies of water.

Treadway additionally recommends checking climate forecasts earlier than partaking in outside summer season actions and adjusting your plans accordingly.

“About two thirds of the victims were enjoying outdoor leisure activities before being struck, with water-related activities topping the list,” he notes. “Of the water-related activities, fishing ranked highest, with boating and beach activities also contributing significantly to the water-related deaths.

“Camping, ranching/farming, and riding an exposed vehicle (bike/motorcycle) also ranked highly in activities people were doing when fatally struck. Among the sports activities, soccer ranked highest, followed by golf and running. … Interestingly, about 80% of lightning fatalities are men.”

Looking again on her experiences, Chavez says she knew she was taking a danger standing on her balcony, filming {the electrical} storm on the day she was struck by lightning. She acknowledges that she didn’t consider she was in danger as a result of it was not raining outdoors, which she now is aware of is a harmful falsehood.

She remains to be in restoration.

“I’m a work in progress,” she says, noting that she struggles with imaginative and prescient issues and mobility. She speaks slowly and intentionally, however articulately, about her experiences.

But Chavez says she is regaining her skills little by little day by day. She just lately returned to work as a undertaking supervisor and even began jogging once more — one thing she had to surrender after the strike.

There is one stunning growth she attributes to the lightning strike, she says: The expertise gave her a brand new outlook on life and that her thoughts is calmer, with much less “brain chatter” than earlier than.

“Through this journey, I actually feel very blessed,” she says. “Having had a near-death experience completely changes your outlook on life. And even though this created such havoc on my mind and body, it actually helped my soul.

“The brain chatter I used to experience is gone because I can only concentrate on the current moment. And to me that is just so peaceful. You just hit this different space, and a few other survivors will tell you that they have felt similar things.”

Chavez additionally says she feels compelled to share her story, believing it might assist others keep away from what occurred to her in addition to those that’ve survived lightning strikes.

“There needs to definitely be more education around what happens to people who have been impacted by a lightning incident [and] who have experienced electrical shock in general,” she says. “A lot of us experience the same things, they do rattle our brains and nervous systems, and it’s not as rare as you think.

“I want to help as much as possible to spread awareness in hopes that it helps someone else.”

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