In February 1997, a small group of friends and relatives went ice fishing on Maine’s Moosehead Lake, not knowing what the day would bring. According to art old account from the National Weather Service, the friends were fishing in snow, slush and rain and heard what sounded like “freight train cars bumping into each other.” They later realized it was thunder, and when it started to hail, they piled their gear onto the snowmobiles to leave.

As they worked, they saw “flickers or sparks” in the air and smelled a strange smell, a sign of a build-up of charge around them. Then, as they rode, they saw beams of light rise from the lake like “lightning fingers,” and heard lightning strike a tall pine several hundred yards away. He threw dirt and rocks across the pond and a boy named Robert, part of the fishing party, flew off the back of a sled.

One of the ‘fingers’, a lightning bolt – similar to the bolts that shoot from a Tesla coil – discharged and knocked the boy unconscious. He survives but suffers lightning burns and loses all memory of the day, leading to a struggle with headaches later in life.

When lightning strikes

Christopher Griggs, an emergency medicine physician with Atrium Health, says in an article that such injuries “can range from mildly burning your body to damaging your brain to death. It really depends on how close you are and how exposed you were to the lightning strike.

The most severe injuries usually come from direct hits, according to National Weather Service. However, ground strikes are more common and account for 50 percent of strikes. With them, lightning scatters across the ground, usually resulting in minor injuries. In other cases, a charge may jump from a tree or fence to a person.

Read more: How people have perceived lightning throughout time

What happens when you get struck by lightning?

Globally, lightning injures about 240,000 people a year paper grades, and killed about 24,000, mostly from heart attacks or respiratory failure. Meanwhile, up to 74 percent of survivors suffer some kind of long-term disability, such as muscle weakness, difficulty thinking, or sensory loss.

Lightning Marks: Lichtenburg Figures

During direct shocks, the current passes through the cardiovascular or nervous system, or both. Because it also passes through the skin, it can boil the sweat and cause burns, and it can also cause the famous Lichtenberg figuresforms of red fern that crawl on the skin. While scientists debate their cause, a 2007 Report suggests inflammation and electrical damage to capillaries.

Burns usually occur when shock converts electrical energy into heat energy, as in the circular burns found where the current exits the body and the aforementioned sweat burns. Even worse damage can occur if the victim’s clothing melts or catches fire when they are unprepared to stop, drop, and roll.

Can you survive a lightning strike?

Strokes often result in keraunoparalysis, a temporary paralysis of the lower limbs that takes several hours to resolve. Blown drums are also common, and the percussive nature of lightning can also damage the eyes. Pregnant women struck by lightning often survive, but their unborn children often do not.

For whatever reason, lightning strikes men far more often than women—since 2013, such incidents have killed 172 men in the U.S. and only 50 women.

A 2022 Report of the National Lightning Safety Council speculates that men “do not want to be inconvenienced by the threat of lightning, are in situations that make it difficult to get to a safe place in time, do not react quickly to the threat of lightning, or any combination of these explanations.”

The report found fishing to be the deadliest activity (not golf, as is sometimes said), followed by a list of activities not easily avoided altogether: beach activities, camping, farming and ranching, cycling , motorcycle or ATV, boating, attending social gatherings, walking to or from home, roofing, construction, soccer, and yard work.

Read more: Why does it rain so much in spring?

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