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Does lightning really never strike the same spot twice?

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The Empire State Building gets hit by lightning about 100 times a year.“The Empire State Building gets hit by lightning about 100 times a year.William Anderson/Getty Images

Before we start in the best strategy to dodge lightning strikes, let’s talk a little about just how dangerous lightning is. Sure, we’re bombarded with talk of how rare a human hit is, and how unlikely it would be. But make no bones about it: A lightning strike can mess you up. The National Weather Service estimates 93 deaths and 300 injuries from lightning every year [source: NASA]. You might not be observing the horrific burns one would expect, but what you’re getting is brain and nerve damage [source: NWS]. This is not the friendly zap of electricity we see cheerfully administered in cartoons, people.

So now that we all agree that lightning is scary and should be avoided at all costs, what’s our strategy? Lay flat on the ground? Stand outside with rubber shoes? Or just watch for a spot that’s already been hit, run like heck to it and stand firmly planted and triumphant, knowing that lightning never strikes the same place twice?

Don’t do that. Don’t do any of that. A brief lesson on the first two points: Laying flat on the ground absolutely increases your chances that any bolt that hits is going to travel to you from a ground current. Bad idea. Second, rubber shoes don’t protect you from lightning. A lightning bolt is much too strong [source: NWS]. Those shoes will come in much handier if you’re using them to run to a shelter.

As for the last strategy: nice try, but no dice. Lightning doesn’t have some sort of memory that causes it to avoid a previously hit space. In fact, you might be disturbed to know that if lightning did have a personality, it would be one of a relentless psychopath who didn’t mind repeating suffering on its victims. (Researchers have even found that one flash of lightning actually hits the ground at an average of 1.45 different strike points [source: NASA]. That’s just mean.)

If you’re a tall, spiky building in the middle of a thunderstorm, your luck is even worse. The Empire State Building, for instance, gets hit about 100 times a year [source: NWS]. Big television towers might get hit every 30 seconds during a big storm [source: Robinson]. If you live in a place that gets decent thunderstorms regularly, you can expect that each quarter acre of land will get a hit every 100 years or so [source: Robinson]. And there’s absolutely nothing stopping lightning from repeatedly hitting a spot during a good electrical storm.

The best advice for avoiding lightning? Get the heck to a shelter, house, car or any other structure that protects you from an angry bolt.

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  • Ferrell, Jesse. "Myth: Lightning Never Strikes Twice." AccuWeather.com. Sept. 6, 2009. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/weathermatrix/myth-lightning-never-strikes-twice/19890
  • NASA. "Lightning really does strike more than twice." Feb. 23, 2008. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2003/0107lightning.html
  • National Weather Service. "Lightning – Frequently Asked Questions." June 28, 2014. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/lightning/lightning_faq.htm#11
  • National Weather Service. "Lightning Safety Myths and Facts." 2015. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/facts_truth.htm
  • National Weather Service. "Medical Aspects of Lightning." 2015. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/medical.htm
  • Robinson, Dan. "Lightning Myths: Lightning never strikes the same place twice." Storm Highway. 2015. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://stormhighway.com/lightning_never_strikes_the_same_place_twice_myth.php

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