A Summary of Recent National-Scale Lightning Fatality Studies

Ronald L. Holle Vaisala, Inc., Tucson, Arizona

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Abstract

There is a major difference in population-weighted lightning fatality rates between the lower fatality rates in developed countries and the higher fatality rates in developing countries. The large decrease in annual rates of population-weighted lightning fatalities in the United States is described over the last century. A similar large reduction in lightning fatality rates has occurred during recent years in Australia, Canada, Japan, and western Europe, where there has also been a change from a mainly rural agricultural society to a primarily urban society. An important accompanying aspect of the lower casualty rates has been the widespread availability of lightning-safe large buildings and fully enclosed metal-topped vehicles, as well as much greater awareness of the lightning threat, better medical treatment, and availability of real-time lightning information. However, lightning exposure for many people in lesser-developed countries is similar to that of a century ago in developed countries. The number of people living in these areas may be increasing in number, so the number of people killed by lightning may be increasing globally due to these socioeconomic factors. It can be difficult to locate national lightning fatality data because of their mainly obscure publication sources. The present paper synthesizes lightning fatality data from 23 published national-scale studies during periods ending in 1979 and later, and maps these fatality rates per million by continent.

Corresponding author address: Ronald Holle, Vaisala, Inc., Technology Research, 2705 E Medina Rd., Suite 111, Tucson, AZ 85756. E-mail: ron.holle@vaisala.com

Abstract

There is a major difference in population-weighted lightning fatality rates between the lower fatality rates in developed countries and the higher fatality rates in developing countries. The large decrease in annual rates of population-weighted lightning fatalities in the United States is described over the last century. A similar large reduction in lightning fatality rates has occurred during recent years in Australia, Canada, Japan, and western Europe, where there has also been a change from a mainly rural agricultural society to a primarily urban society. An important accompanying aspect of the lower casualty rates has been the widespread availability of lightning-safe large buildings and fully enclosed metal-topped vehicles, as well as much greater awareness of the lightning threat, better medical treatment, and availability of real-time lightning information. However, lightning exposure for many people in lesser-developed countries is similar to that of a century ago in developed countries. The number of people living in these areas may be increasing in number, so the number of people killed by lightning may be increasing globally due to these socioeconomic factors. It can be difficult to locate national lightning fatality data because of their mainly obscure publication sources. The present paper synthesizes lightning fatality data from 23 published national-scale studies during periods ending in 1979 and later, and maps these fatality rates per million by continent.

Corresponding author address: Ronald Holle, Vaisala, Inc., Technology Research, 2705 E Medina Rd., Suite 111, Tucson, AZ 85756. E-mail: ron.holle@vaisala.com
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