What It Feels Like To Be Struck By Lightning

Without a doubt, you’re an unlucky person if you get struck by lightning–but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Because of this possibility, it’s hard not to wonder what it would feel like having all that powerful electricity surge through your body.

You may be surprised to find out that if you do get zapped by lightning, you’re likely to survive. According to Dr. David Claypool of Mayo Clinic, whether or not you are hit directly or indirectly will have a huge impact on how your body is affected by the incident.

What happens after you’re struck by lightning can vary dramatically. Last May, lightning struck an unprotected hut in Zimbabwe, killing 21 people. On the opposite end of the spectrum of that African tragedy stands Roy Sullivan, famous for being hit by lightning on seven different occasions! By examining these extremes, and all the stories from survivors and bystanders between them, it’s possible to grasp what it really feels like to be struck by lightning.

Getting Hit by 1 Billion Volts, Deep within The Skin

Jamie Santana‘s family regained consciousness on the ground of their home after a lightning struck.

Jamie did not.
Jamie and his brother-in-law, Alejandro Torres, had turned their horses around because of the oncoming storm. They were nearly home when Jamie was hit by lightning.

Their neighbor, a paramedic and a firefighter, rushed out to assist him. Flames jumped from Jamie’s chest as his body smoked, the cowboy hat he had been wearing had a hole blown through it. The neighbor immediately started performing CPR, which was essential to giving Jamie a chance of survival.

On the way to the hospital, paramedics struggled to stabilize Jamie’s heart rhythm. In addition to heart failure, the lightning burned about 17 percent of his body and caused severe brain trauma.

After 131 days, spent at four hospitals, Jamie was released. However, doctors said it would take years before he recovered.

Struck by Lightning: Unexplainable Pain

Unlike Jamie, Justin Gauger, another lightning-strike survivor, is able to vividly recall the experience.

Justin’s wife caught the lightning strike on camera from inside her vehicle as she avoided a hail storm. However, it’s impossible to make out the lightning hitting Justin.

When the lightning hit him, Justin felt his whole body stop. He was surrounded by white light as the world began to move in slow motion. Bystanders rushed to Justin’s smoking body after he was hit.

Though the memory of being out fishing with his family when he was hit by lightning is clear, Justin struggles to find the words to describe the pain that surged through his body. As close as Justin could get to depicting the actual feeling was the analogy of putting your finger in a light socket. However, this time the current was exponentially stronger as it surged throughout his body.

Short-term and Long-term effects of being Struck By Lightning

Those who have been struck by lightning often suffer a variety of short-term and long-term effects depending on a number of variables:

  • Did the lightning strike them directly or indirectly?
  • What clothing were they wearing?
  • What did they have in their pockets at the time?

Immediately after being struck by lightning, there can be issues with your vision and hearing, due to the bright flash of lightning and the booming clap of thunder. In Justin’s case, his ears were ringing immediately after being hit. According to Dr. Claypool, lightning can cause temporary blindness and can potentially rupture an eardrum.

These, however, are minor issues when compared to serious burns, chronic pain, and head trauma that could lead to memory issues and other long-term ailments that can occur if you’re struck by lightning. As in Jamie’s case, some of these effects can last years, if not a lifetime.

Burns and Brain Effects when Struck by Lightning

It’s possible that the burns on your body after you’ve been struck by lightning will look insignificant. Dr. Claypool describes the burns as Lichtenberg figures or just “lines”. However, the damage done by the heat can be more than skin deep. These electrical burns can cause serious internal damage, especially to the muscles, heart, or brain.

Mary Ann Cooper, a retired Chicago emergency physician, and long-time lightning researcher points out that brain injuries that can occur when a person is struck by lightning can cause strain in your overall life. The damage can cause personality changes, mood swings, or depression. These changes can impact your relationships with family members and your spouse.

According to Cooper, electrical shock to the brain can have the same impact as an electrical shock to a computer – it scrambles everything up. Thinking of it this way, the lightning essentially rewires your brain. Though everything might look fine on the outside, the surge may have damaged the software within.

A Body That Becomes a Soup Inside Clothes

Lightning-strike victims struggle to describe the pain and sensations of millions of volts of electricity passing through their bodies. Many simply say that the experience is unthinkable. Others are more creative in their analogies and descriptions.

In a collection of experiences of being struck by lightning published by Business Insider, Betsy Smith explains that it felt like her entire body become a soup inside her clothes. Her left arm was severely burned in the incident and one of her fingers actually had to be amputated.

Brock Nevill was 15 years old when the tree he was leaning against was hit by lightning. After being bedridden for three months due to heart failure, he developed an allergy to metals.

Another survivor described the pain as “being stung by 10,000 wasps from inside out”. He suffered nervous system damage. To this day, he experiences severe mood swings and insomnia.

What it Feels Like to be Struck By Lightning

There is a one in 1,042,000 chance of being struck by lightning in the US in any given year, according to the National Weather Service. Though the chances are slim of being hit by lightning, an average 51 people are killed by lightning every year, reports NOAA.

In the US, the only weather condition that kills more people each year is flooding. Though natural disasters are hard to predict, basic precautions can help safeguard you from lightning. The most important step is to avoid wide open spaces (such as golf courses), and water (such as lakes) when lightning storms are approaching.

Though each person struck by lightning can feel different effects due to numerous factors, it’s obviously something best left to our imaginations, as the reality of being hit by lightning can cause short-term and long-term damage that may change life as you know it, forever.

To keep yourself as safe as possible, invest in a lightning detection system, like the INO Weather Pro. In addition to detecting lightning up to 40 miles away, this self-contained device measures temperature, pressure, humidity, heat index, dew point, and altitude. For those out of cell range, it works without the need to connect to the internet, instead directly interpreting the signals from your surrounding environment.