Lightning can be very frightening.

  • Lightning strikes near a church in south London. Photo by Lewis Whyld/PA Wire.

    A looming supercell thunderstorm in Lincolnshire in June. Photo by Brendan Jones

    Thunderstorm risk this weekend. Red: high risk. Green: Low risk.

    A cloud to ground lightning strike in Sussex, summer 2011. Photo by Brendan Jones

  • Lightning can be very frightening.
    02.08.2012 11:00


    Nature’s fireworks are poised to unleash this weekend as thunderstorms revisit the UK’s skies.

    “In barns we crouch, and under stacks of straw, 
    Harking the storm that rides a hurtling legion 
    Up the arched sky, and speeds quick heels of panic 
    With growling thunder loosed in fork and clap 
    That echoes crashing thro’ the slumbrous vault”

    Siegfried Sassoon’s apparent vision of cowering from a raging thunderstorm is probably something we can all relate to, albeit with vehicles and living rooms replacing the straw-filled barns. It is with good reason that thunderclouds are to be revered as they can be dangerous beasts!

    Our UK thunderstorms rarely match the fury of some of their American or even European counterparts, where violent tornadoes, giant hailstones and hurricane-force winds bring destruction. All thunderstorms, whether they be towering Midwest supercells or ‘garden-grown’ UK thunderstorms, contain one ingredient which is potentially lethal though: lightning.

    According to The Tornado & Storm Research Organisation (TORRO), around 30 to 60 people per year are struck by lightning in the UK. This, of course, includes indirect strikes where no injury is sustained. In many cases, people who claim to have been hit by lightning have probably received a secondary-shock, such as the spreading of charge through the ground beneath them. However, TORRO research shows that around three people per year on average are killed by lightning in the UK. One of the most prolific years for lightning deaths in recent times was 1982, when 14 people lost their lives. Most recently, a lady received burns after being hit by lightning near Aberdeen in June whilst her dog, with whom she was out walking, was unfortunately killed.

    Simple advice to avoid becoming a lightning-statistic is to move into a building or vehicle as soon as possible when you hear distant thunder. Lightning can strike several miles away from a parent thunderstorm and so standing beneath blue skies in warm sunshine whilst distant storms flicker is no safety net.

    It is healthy to have a strong respect for lightning but, for some unfortunate souls, thunderstorms pose a more threatening obstacle. Thunderstorm-phobic people are said to exhibit astraphobia (brontophobia is the fear of thunder alone) and the onset of nature’s fireworks can render sufferers crippled with fear.

    Those with astraphobia should probably prepare for this coming weekend, particularly across England and Wales, with showers and thunderstorms expected to be widespread.

    By: Brendan Jones