Lightning Can Come with a Terrible Cost
Take steps to protect yourself from paying the price.
Ronnie Glass sat on the porch watching the clouds roll in. She could hear the rumbling thunder of the approaching storm on the other side of the lake.
She thought she had plenty of time. But out of what she thought was a safe sky came a bolt of lightning that split a nearby tree. She was lucky. The dropped limb didn’t damage her property and she learned a new level of respect for storms.
“I’ve always watched storms in wonderment,” she said. “They can be so beautiful. But they are also powerful and dangerous. I couldn't get inside fast enough. I have a lot more respect for them now.”
According to the National Weather Service, on average 26 people were killed by lightning strikes in the United States each year in the last decade.
Greater lightning awareness has led to the numbers coming down slightly. In 2019, there were 20 direct lightning fatalities, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1941.
Lightning can strike 5 to 10 miles from a thunderstorm. The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the "30/30 Rule" for personal safety:
- If it takes less than 30 seconds after you see lightning to hear the thunder, you should get indoors and stay there for 30 minutes.
Lightning Strikes Becoming More Costly
According to III, the number of homeowners insurance claims from lightning strikes in the United States also fell in 2019. But, the average cost insurers paid on those claims increased by 11 percent between 2017 and 2019.
The average State Farm claim increased to $11,500 (up from $10,400). The rise is due in part to more “smart homes” and their interconnected electronic systems. If lighting strikes the network, it can damage scores of devices and appliances at once.
Ways to protect your home:
- Install a lightning protection system. You may receive a credit on your homeowners insurance. According to Underwriters Laboratories, 99 percent are effective in preventing lightning damage. The components include:
- Lightning rods – divert the strike of the lightning from the home directly into the ground.
- Surge protectors – adding surge protectors can help keep appliances and electronics safe.
- If you're home when a storm hits, unplug electronics and appliances. (Do not attempt to unplug electronics/appliances during the height a storm.)
- Check your homeowners insurance policy. Not all insurance plans are the same. Make sure yours will cover damage done to your home and/or appliances and electronics.
Be Safe. When thunder roars, go indoors!
- Never stand under a tree during a lightning storm.
- If you can't get indoors, seek the lowest level of elevation possible.
- Stay away from anything metal – bleachers, golf clubs, fencing, etc.
- Immediately get out of bodies of water – showers, lakes, rivers, pools.
- Always seek an indoor shelter; if no other options, a car with the windows rolled up will keep you safe.
- Stay away from doors, windows, and appliances. Use of a cell phone is safe.
- Your chance of being struck by lightning is estimated to be 1 in 600,000 (according to NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
- While many lightning deaths happen at the beginning of an approaching storm, more than 50 percent of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed (NOAA reports).
- June, July and August are the most common months for lightning incidents in the United States.
- Lightning hits Earth 100 times per second, an estimated 8.64 million times a day.
- It can strike 5 to 10 miles from a thunderstorm (the lesson Glass learned last summer).
- While a majority of lightning claims are paid from July to October, lightning can strike any time of the year.
- The top 10 states for paid lightning related claims are: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
- Lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun. It can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
- One ground strike can generate between 100 million and one billion volts of electricity.