A Boy Scout killed by a bolt Wednesday in Utah brought the year's count of known lightning fatalities to 10, or nine males and one female. The average year sees 55 deaths, according to NOAA, so this is probably just the beginning of a grim and predictable tally. (If you don't clamber for shelter when the sky starts to crackle, perhaps these lightning-strike survivor stories will help convince you.)
July is historically the most active month for lightning injuries, and 2011 isn't bucking that trend. Halfway into the month there have already been four deaths, whereas June had five total. The latest occurred when a hailstorm overtook a scout troop camping in Utah's Scofield State Park. Troop leaders saw a bolt score a direct lethal hit on a 12-year-old boy and, unbeknownst to them at first, a glancing blow to another scout who later had to be taken to the hospital with burns. (Depending on soil type, lightning can arc up to 60 feet from the point of ground contact.) This is Utah's second fatal lightning strike this year; on July 11, a man was blasted while hiking in the open desert.
The eighth fatality this year was a weird one. On July 3, Stephen Rooney was lunching at a family picnic in Hammonton, N.J., when he wandered off to light a cigar. Then,
The party host, Rooney's cousin and next door neighbor, Funzi Digerolamo, says a giant bolt shook the yard.
"Hit the tree, went up the tree. It electrified all through the root system of the tree at that time so he was standing right in the electric field," Digerolamo said.
Digerolamo's son Scott was blown right off a bench, but survived.
Rooney wasn't so lucky; he died five days afterward. According to friends his last statement was something about lightning not striking two people in the same family. Rooney's father, it turns out, had been killed by lightning 48 years ago.