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Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

Posted July 19, 2016 1:19 PM by Chelsey H

With summer time comes thunderstorms. And while I don’t like being woken up in the middle of the night – I do enjoy watching the storm roll in from my front porch.

Lightning has shaped Earth, and life on Earth, for billions of years. Here are three ways lightning has left its mark on our home planet.

  1. Origin of life – Electricity is able to rearrange simple gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor and water into more intricate forms. A series of experiments shows that organics produced by lightning on our new planet most likely included amino acids and other fundamental components of living things and therefor served as the pool of ingredients from which life came.
  2. Early Microbes – All living things need nitrogen gas to make essential molecules like proteins and DNA. Nitrogen is extremely stable and lightening can break the bonded atoms and weld them onto nearby oxygen atoms. These oxides were usable by early microbes ensuring they had a renewable supply of nitrogen with which to continue reproducing. As microbes spread across the planet and increased in number, supplies of lightening-derived nitrogen oxides declined. This spurred the evolution of microbes to develop an internal way to convert nitrogen gas to workable ammonia.
  3. Forest Life – As soon as trees appeared, lightning began killing them. They are the principal natural means by which wildfires are ignited. And wildfires are important for forests. They provide homes and food for many animals and fungi. Other organisms reproduce as a direct results of burnt soil and charred wood. Production of fire-lined fungi is triggered when trees are damaged by fire and the dead leaves covering the forest floor, from which the mushrooms sprout, are burned away. Heat and smoke are also responsible for bringing about the germination of plant seeds which are impermeable to water until exposed to high heat.

Electrical currents have been linked to the creation and evolution of life on Earth. But it can also have devastating consequences – killing many of the quarter of a million people hit by lightning a year.

So maybe enjoy the thunderstorms from the safety of your front porch.

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#1

Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/19/2016 2:39 PM

"...quarter of a million people hit by lightning a year."

Can this possibly be accurate?

This number is from the source article. The poking around that I did turned up scattered statistics, but added together, come nowhere near to 250,000 human to lightning interactions per year average. Can anyone substantiate this number?

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#2
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/19/2016 5:04 PM

Here it is for USA...odds about 1 in 1 million of being struck by lightning in a year.

http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/odds.shtml

"How Dangerous is Lightning?

Lightning is a major cause of storm related deaths in the U.S. A lightning strike can result in a cardiac arrest (heart stopping) at the time of the injury, although some victims may appear to have a delayed death a few days later if they are resuscitated but have suffered irreversible brain damage.

According to the NWS Storm Data, over the last 30 years (1984-2013) the U.S. has averaged 49 reported lightning fatalities per year. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability.

Odds of Becoming a Lightning Victim
based on averages for 2004-2013

Estimated U.S. population as of 2014318,000,000
Annual Reported Lightning Deaths33Annual Injuries Reported234267
Estimated number of U.S. Deaths33Estimated number of actual Injuries297330
Odds of being struck by lightning in a given year (reported deaths + injuries)1/1,190,000
Odds of being struck in a given year (estimated total deaths + injuries)1/960,000
Odds of being struck in your lifetime (Est. 80 years)1/12,000
Odds you will be affected by someone struck (10 people for every 1 struck)1/1,200

If 1/4 million are struck worldwide (pop 7 Billion), that is an odds of 1/2800, 400 times the US average. I agree with you.

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#3
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/19/2016 8:07 PM

I think your odds go up significantly depending on your occupation or hobbies. Golf anyone?

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#4
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/19/2016 10:38 PM

I thought the same thing. My only conclusion is that if the number is correct, maybe people get struck at a much higher rate in certain countries (where there's a lot of violent storms).

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#7
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 11:19 AM

Here is some data on some different countries, fatalities per million per year:

I don't know how accurate this is, but it does appear that the fatality rate could be a lot higher in other countries than in the US (1 fatality per million per year). Note that the Chinese (19% of earth population) rates are pretty high.

There might be a good market for lightning rods in China...

http://www.outsideonline.com/1912401/lightning-deaths-and-injuries-numbers

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#8
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 11:50 AM

One article I referred to stated that the more rural the area, in general, the more deaths. This makes sense to me as the opportunity/necessity to be outside is greater. I know rural1 farmers in China spend a great deal of time outside compared to their USA counterparts. I would imagine this to include the other developing nations as well.

Fun fact: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-lightning-strikes-survived

1. Rural as in more than a couple hours away from the outskirts of a city by private car.

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#5

Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 7:57 AM

Here's a worldwide site I found: http://www.outsideonline.com/1912401/lightning-deaths-and-injuries-numbers

"24,000: Deaths a year from lightning.

240,000: Injuries a year from lightning."

Another arguable worldwide source (they use quite a bit of estimating): http://www.vaisala.com/Vaisala%20Documents/Scientific%20papers/Annual_rates_of_lightning_fatalities_by_country.pdf

"Holle and Lopez (2003) made an assessment of the worldwide impact of lightning, and concluded that 24,000 deaths and 240,000 injuries occur per year."

Bonus link: http://www.yalescientific.org/2014/04/death-by-lightning-to-some-countries-more-than-just-a-shock/

Just the first three semi-interesting looking links I found. Still nowhere near 250,000 deaths a year worldwide. Interesting to note though, the numbers match. That was not on purpose by me.

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#6

Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 8:50 AM

My wife's step brother and his wife were both struck by lightning several years ago and she died. He survived.

When I was a child, my brothers, a few cousins and myself were in a lake when a storm rolled in and lightning struck the lake a couple hundred yards away. We could have lost an entire generation of our family. At that distance the shock was no more intense than an electric fence. I am more careful now.

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#9

Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 12:11 PM

IMHO The most dramatic and appealing way that lightning literally makes its mark on the Earth is the fulgerite.

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#10
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 3:48 PM

Not quite the same as the Sweet Home Alabama movie ones.

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#11
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Re: Three Ways Lightning Has Left Its Mark

07/20/2016 4:11 PM

A real fulurite doesn't need a steel rod to be formed.

PS I did not see the movie but I did look up the reference.

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