Up Next

Ask a Mortician: the lighter side of death

Lightning strikes kill 24,000 people each year, But they don't have to

There’s no bigger story about public health right now than the Ebola crisis… and one of the common refrains we hear again and again is that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to catch the virus.

So what if we really are worrying about the wrong thing? Turns out lightning is a quiet killer, responsible for some 24,000 deaths every year around the globe, according to some estimates.

The threat is particularly acute in the developing world, where strikes are common and so are casualties. Without well-grounded buildings, people have literally no place to go when a storm rolls in.

“Billions of people are still working in outdoor, labor-intensive agriculture. They’re still living in grass and mud structures that don’t provide lightning protection,” said Ron Holle, a lightning expert and consultant to Vaisala, a company that monitors strikes around the globe.

It’s true not just for homes but for public buildings. Many cases of multiple deaths happen when schools are struck. Within the last six months, lightning has struck schools in Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania, resulting in at least 8 deaths and dozens of injuries.

That’s why one group, the African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics, is trying to make schools lightning-safe.

“What we want to do is put a lightning protection system on the school, particularly on the schools most at risk,” said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, the founding director of the group. “Teach people they can have an effect, can be responsible for their own safety when storms are in the area.”

It’s one way to strike back against a persistent danger.

Credit: Bradley Blackburn

Lightning strikes kill 24,000 people each year, But they don't have to

There’s no bigger story about public health right now than the Ebola crisis… and one of the common refrains we hear again and again is that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to catch the virus.

So what if we really are worrying about the wrong thing? Turns out lightning is a quiet killer, responsible for some 24,000 deaths every year around the globe, according to some estimates.

The threat is particularly acute in the developing world, where strikes are common and so are casualties. Without well-grounded buildings, people have literally no place to go when a storm rolls in.

“Billions of people are still working in outdoor, labor-intensive agriculture. They’re still living in grass and mud structures that don’t provide lightning protection,” said Ron Holle, a lightning expert and consultant to Vaisala, a company that monitors strikes around the globe.

It’s true not just for homes but for public buildings. Many cases of multiple deaths happen when schools are struck. Within the last six months, lightning has struck schools in Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania, resulting in at least 8 deaths and dozens of injuries.

That’s why one group, the African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics, is trying to make schools lightning-safe.

“What we want to do is put a lightning protection system on the school, particularly on the schools most at risk,” said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, the founding director of the group. “Teach people they can have an effect, can be responsible for their own safety when storms are in the area.”

It’s one way to strike back against a persistent danger.

Credit: Bradley Blackburn

WHERE TO WATCH