Lightning survivors are rare, but they do happen. Whether it is a direct hit, association hit, or from the left-over voltage from the ground. Here are some of their stories.
There are 240 volts of electricity that runs through a house. A transformer’s job is to reduce the 7,200 volts to the 240 volts. Now imagine a lightning bolt that can contain one billion volts of electricity. People have survived this.
“It’s traveling about 136,000 miles per second, and it’s super hot. Probably the hottest thing on earth, could be as hot as 50,000 degrees,” said News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells.
Being struck by lightning, there is about one in a million chance according to NWS and NOAA.
James Church was wearing his brown rubber waders and a yellow rain jacket to keep out the 6 a.m. cold, as he got ready to fish. Mr. Church, 55, cast back his pole and let loose the line and sinker. He saw lightning on the horizon far away and felt safe. Then a bolt struck, he remembers a deafening boom and a flash so bright he felt his eyes burn. He woke up against a metal railing six feet away. Lying on his back, alone, in the dark, his body felt paralyzed. He knew he had to reach his cell phone to get help, but it was locked in the tackle box.
Mr. Church was lucky: the lightning missed his heart. Most people hit by lightning die because their hearts stop. But it still left lasting damage. The lightning hit his fishing pole and exploded the metal sinker toward his face. Because he was resting the pole near his right hip, the force of the lightning shoved it into his stomach. His elbow had been against his hip, so the current traveled there and along his forearm. It left his body through his two fingers.
He spent nine hours in surgery. Doctors cut open his stomach and took out half of his small and large intestines, which had been burned and damaged. Then they sewed up his fingers. His stomach, arm, and wrist still have burn marks. The rain jacket shredded and eardrums had burst.
Brad Sussman’s lightning bolt forged in irony. “I knew everything about lightning,” he said. That’s because he was chief meteorologist at a Jacksonville station and sat on the county’s lightning safety board back then, in the early 1990s.
One afternoon, rain was pounding his house, and Mr. Sussman saw an open window on the screened porch. He walked over to the metal window frame and put his right hand on it. Next thing he knew, he was flat on his back 18 feet away.
“My 2½-year-old son says, ‘Daddy, that was funny. Do that again,’” said Mr. Sussman, who now sells insurance in Cleveland. Mr. Sussman was speechless; he literally couldn’t talk. A neighbor heard the boom and walked into the house. “How could I be struck by lightning?” Mr. Sussman told him. “I’m a meteorologist.”
The evidence was on the porch roof: a burned hole. The lightning had traveled across to the window frame. Mr. Sussman walked away with only a small burn on his right shoulder blade, a loopy feeling for a couple of hours and more respect for lightning. “When lightning strikes nearby,” he said, “wow, do I get scared.”
Everyone’s signs of being struck can be different
Dr. Howard Smith, the director of the burn unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said a lightning strike can be just like electric shock therapy and can impact people in different ways.
Sol Daley of Australia was on the Veranda with his wife. As she was coming in out of the rain lightning struck Mr. Daley. He was knocked to the ground. When Jennifer Joyce saw her husband struck just meters in front of her, she worried he had been killed. I could see the blue finger of the electricity going into Sol’s arm. I was trying to get him to move, but he was stunned.”
The couple said the strike was so loud they were both temporarily deafened.
“I was in a lot of pain,” Mr. Daley added.
“All I remember is the terrible noise and the terrible smell. It was flesh and the burnt hairs that burnt off my arm.
“I felt like there was someone inside my chest trying to kick out.”
“As I was looking at Sol, I could see red lines across his chest, and they were getting brighter,” Ms. Joyce said.
“That’s when he said he was struggling to breathe.”
They called the ambulance, and Mr. Daley was taken to Innisfail Hospital where his heart was monitored for 24 hours.
More effects started to surface.
Here are some common effects of being struck:
- Hearing or vision loss
- Fast or irregular heartbeat, or chest pain
- Headache, trouble staying awake, confusion, or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain, weakness, stiffness, or temporary paralysis
- Skin burns
- Passing out, weak pulse, or no pulse