Lightning strikes are a powerful natural phenomenon that can have devastating effects on the human body. When a person is directly struck by lightning, which typically carries tens of thousands of amps, the voltage across the body increases, potentially reaching millions of volts. This can cause a flashover, where part of the current flows over the body surface, leading to possible burns and other problems.
Although lasting just 0.1 to 0.01 seconds, lightning strikes carry an amount of energy greater than 10 million volts. To put it in perspective, a high-voltage power line usually carries 100,000 volts or more, and a typical home electrical outlet carries 110 volts.
Furthermore, a lightning bolt’s peak temperature reaches 30,000 degrees on the Kelvin scale – about five times hotter than the sun’s surface.
Lightning: Powerful, Brief, and Destructive
Lightning strikes, a captivating yet perilous force of nature, wield the potential for devastating effects on the human body. Dr. Joseph Dwyer, a professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in lightning physics and effects, sheds light on the intricate consequences when individuals face the direct wrath of lightning.
Dr. Joseph Dwyer told Ground Report, “When a person is directly struck by lightning, an event that carries tens of thousands of amps, the body experiences a sudden surge in voltage. This surge can potentially reach millions of volts, leading to a phenomenon known as flashover.”
Dr. Dwyer explains that part of the current flows over the body surface during this flashover. This can result in burns and other complications as the electrical breakdown occurs across the body’s surface.
“When struck, the voltages between the head and feet rapidly rise, causing an electrical breakdown across the surface of the body. This diverts a lot of the current over the skin, which can cause burns but may also help steer the largest currents away from the internal organs.”Dr. Dwyer
Dr. Dwyer said that not all lightning-related injuries stem from direct strikes. Lightning can strike nearby objects, such as trees, inducing side flashes or sparks that can harm individuals. Lightning currents may also traverse the ground, delivering shocks through step voltage, travelling up one leg and down the other.
He further added, “Moreover, lightning can travel along conductors like wire fences, administering shocks to anyone in contact. As lightning nears the ground, the high electric field can generate a leader (spark) launching off a person, with currents from this leader capable of causing injuries even if it does not attach to the main lightning channel.”
What do you feel after a lightning strike?
Business Insider reports that the feeling one could expect to experience following a lightning strike is incomparable to anything else. The disruption of the electrical impulses in your body might cause you to feel as if you can’t breathe, can’t stop shaking, or as if you’re undergoing a heart attack.
As these symptoms resemble cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and seizures, which are quite common, it makes sense. This could potentially lead to temporary or permanent paralysis, or even coma.
The long-term consequences of a lightning strike can be just as harmful. Even if a person survives the initial strike, they may suffer from lasting neurological and physical damage.
As per the study published in Med Link Neurology, severe muscle injuries can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue over time, producing a toxic protein that can eventually cause kidney failure. The extent of the damage largely depends on the path the lightning took through the body, the duration of the strike, and the number of vital organs it affected.
Lightning strikes cause serious injuries
Dr. Christopher Griggs, an emergency medicine physician at Atrium Health, underlines the rarity yet severity of being struck by lightning. Injuries resulting from lightning strikes vary widely, ranging from mild burns to severe brain damage and death. The extent of the injuries depends on the proximity and exposure to the lightning strike.
- “Direct lightning strikes can induce cardiac arrest, disrupt blood circulation, and cause direct injury to the brain and nervous system, impeding the brain’s signalling for breathing. Long-term effects encompass neurological and muscle injuries, with muscle injury survivors at risk of developing rhabdomyolysis. In this condition, muscle breakdown releases toxic proteins into the bloodstream, potentially harming kidneys”.
Even proximity to a lightning strike can inflict damage, with thunderous sound waves rupturing eardrums and indirect strikes causing minor thermal burns and nervous system damage.
Dr. Griggs asserts that survival from a direct lightning strike hinges on the energy’s path through the body and the affected organs—an ominous reminder of the formidable power and inherent dangers associated with lightning strikes.
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