Monday, December 24, 2012

Science Myths and Misconceptions: Part II: Lightning

#2 - Lightning never strikes the same place twice

Worldwide Lightning flashes (flashes/year/km2)
A common idiom is that lightning never strikes the same place twice. The above video shows how that is absolutely wrong. The top of the Empire State building is hit by lightning about 23 times per year. In one storm it was recorded as being struck 8 times within 24 minutes. You could argue that this doesn't count because of the lightning rod atop the Empire State building, but the idiom would still be untrue.

Park Ranger Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning a record 7 times in his life - and survived each brush with death. The National Weather Service estimates that the odds of being hit by lightning once is 1:10,000.

However, Roy Sullivan wasn't standing in the same place each time he was hit. So maybe the idiom refers to the same geographical location. Does lightning ever hit the same natural geographical location more than once? Yes. Just look at the global distribution of lightning flashes. In Africa you'll see an area with very high flash density. Right in the center of that spot is the small village of Kifuka. This mountain-top village is struck by lightning an astonishing 158/year/km2! Anyway you look at it, lightning can strike the same place twice.