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Either lightning is attracted to testosterone, or men spend an inordinate amount of time outdoors swinging metal objects about. Men are struck by lightning four times more often than women.

According to a study entitled "Demographics of U.S. Lightning Casualties and Damages from 1959 - 1994," by Ronald L. Holle and Ral E. Lpez of the National Severe Storms Laboratory and E. Brian Curran of the National Weather Service, males account for 84% of lightning fatalities and 82% of injuries.

Men can take comfort in the fact that the actual number of deaths and injuries from lightning strikes has decreased in the past 35 years. Holle's team attributes 30 percent of the decrease in lightning deaths to improved forecasts and warnings, better lightning awareness, more substantial buildings, and socioeconomic changes. They attribute an additional 40 percent to improved medical care and communications.

The National Weather Service publication Storm Data recorded 3,239 deaths and 9,818 injuries from lightning strikes between 1959 and 1994. Only flash floods and river floods cause more weather-related deaths. But according to Dr. Elisabeth Gourbière of the Electricitie de France, Service des Etudes Médicales, only 20 percent of lightning victims are immediately struck dead. Still, many doctors do not fully understand how to treat the injuries of the other 80 percent of lightning victims who survive a strike.

Says Gourbière, "The pathology of lightning, or keraunopathy, is known only to a few specialists."

Most doctors are more familiar with electrical shocks, such as those received by industrial workers when they have an accidental run-in with high-voltage equipment. But lightning injuries are not the same as electrical shocks. For one thing, the contact voltage of a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts, while a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts.

Industrial shocks rarely last longer than half a seco
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Contact: John M. Horack
john.horack@msfc.nasa.gov
256-544-1872
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory
18-Jun-1999


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