In past decades, it wasn’t completely uncommon for consumers to be struck by lightning. Nearly 330 people died each year from this tragic, natural phenomenon in the 1940s, but experts say that those numbers have dropped significantly over time.
Courthouse News reports that only 13 people in the U.S. have died after being struck by lightning this year, which is on track to be the lowest recorded number ever. So, what changed? Researchers say that consumers are now much more aware of the dangers of lightning and are more proactive in taking steps to avoid it.
“We’ve equipped the public by saying, ‘When thunder roars, go indoors .’ Three-year-olds can remember that,” said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, professor emerita of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Less time outside
Of course, going inside when a storm is coming only explains part of the reason why lightning deaths have dropped. Harold Brooks, a scientist with the National Weather Service’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, points out that as a society we generally spend less time outside altogether.
That’s especially true of professions that have typically required spending a lot of time outdoors, such as farmers. National Weather Service lightning safety specialist John Jensenius Jr. says that in the past, farmers were often the tallest object in fields, which made them much more likely to be struck.
But advances to agricultural technology have cut the amount of time that farmers are exposed to dangerous conditions. Other developments, such as vehicles with metal roofs, also play a part in keeping consumers safe when they’re not safely indoors.
On top of all that, experts say that improvements to medical care have played a big role in reducing the number of lightning-related deaths. Devices such as defibrillators are now much more commonly used, and more bystanders are trained in CPR. Additionally, doctors are now much more focused on neurological damage caused by lightning strikes than they were in the past.
Despite improving outcomes, experts still warn that being struck by lightning is a serious risk to those who don’t take proper precautions. Two men vacationing in Florida just last month were struck by lightning on a beach, killing one of them.
“We ignored it. We were just thinking it was going to pass over soon,” said survivor Andre Bauldock. “We could see the sun in the distance. I was admiring the lightning out in the ocean and I thought it was far away.”
“Our victims are at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Jensenius. "The wrong place is anywhere outside. The wrong time is anywhere that you can hear thunder."