COVID-19 Might Be Why Lightning Killed Fewer People in the US This Year

Or there might be a more philosophical answer to this question

There's an unexpected connection between the pandemic and lightning deaths.
Sean McAuliffe/Unsplash

Being struck by lightning can be a harrowing experience for the people who survive it. One can only imagine what it’s like for those who have died as a result — something that happens to a small group of people in the United States every year. This year, the number is particularly small: 17. (3 people have died as a result of lightning in Florida, and another 3 have in Texas.) And, strangely, something else ominous might be responsible.

A new article by Richard Luscombe at The Guardian explores why lightning deaths in the United States are down significantly this year. Luscombe spoke with John Jensenius of the National Lightning Safety Council, who suggested that the pandemic might be one of the reasons for the decline in lightning deaths.

Exactly how the pandemic affected lightning deaths is unclear, however. It might be that the number of deaths dropped because of people staying indoors more due to the pandemic. But it’s also possible that more deaths from lightning occurred and simply weren’t reported on.

“With this year’s media coverage primarily focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, social injustice and unrest, and the devastating wildfires in the western US, lightning deaths and injuries did not get their usual coverage,” Jensenius said.

It’s an almost philosophical question: what happens when there’s no system in place to record a particularly unsettling variety of statistic? The work done by Jensenius and his colleagues may help give us an answer.

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