When a 32-year-old man was struck and killed by lightning while visiting Sunken Meadow State Park in Long Island, New York this August, he became the first lightning fatality recorded in the state since 2016. And he was only the 16th lightning death reported in the entire U.S. this year.
As late as the 1940s, lightning used to kill hundreds of Americans every year. But even as our population has tripled, these deaths have become vanishingly rare, largely thanks to advances in city architecture that steer ground strikes away from humans.
But the New York man’s tragic death illustrates how dangerous lightning can still be. In his case, he was reportedly struck while standing beneath a tree. But while the heat and energy of a direct hit—a lightning bolt can reach temperatures hotter than the surface of the Sun—is more than enough to kill, the truth is that lightning causes death in many strange ways.
Sometimes, as with people who send off a powerful streamer discharge, lightning can be fatal without physically hitting a person at all. And to this day, scientists are still stumbling onto new theories about what makes lightning so deadly.
Our latest video, above, delves into the peculiarities of lightning death, and offers some tips on how to stay safe during a storm (Hint: Crouching close to the ground won’t help).