I have always enjoyed a strong rainstorm and I still get a bit excited when I see lightning and hear the roar of the thunder that follows. Lightning is an incredible spectacle. It gives me a bit of a thrill, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. Lightning can also be a frightening occurrence. Many have been comforted by an old saying that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but is that true?
When I was younger and my siblings and I were outside, I can remember my mother calling us in if a storm was starting. She was always worried about lightning, having seen a tree struck and damaged badly, when she was a child. She would tell us to never go under a tree during a lightning storm and to get in a car, if we couldn’t make it to safety. She explained that the rubber tires on the car would be the grounding conduit for the lightning so we wouldn’t be harmed.
What exactly is lightning? Lightning is an electrical spark created when positive and negative charges within clouds build up to such a capacity that air breaks down and discharges the electricity. Lightning actually strikes from both the sky and the ground. The lightning strike we see is the negative electrical current from the ground. The place, where the negative current strikes, sends a positive electrical channel back up into the clouds. Also, lightning looks like a single bolt, but it really is a series of short bursts that occur in less than a second and is less than two inches wide. See a more in-depth explanation of lightning here by watching a National Geographic video of The Science of Lightning.
The old saying that lightning never strikes the same place twice is just not true. There are actually three answers I will provide as evidence that the saying is a myth. The first answer is that lightning most definitely can strikes the same exact place twice. In fact, there is recorded evidence of the same structure being hit multiple times over the course of one storm and over time through numerous storms. In Chicago, the Sears Tower was struck 10 times. A TV tower in West Virginia was struck 50 times – see that video proof from a professional storm chaser here. Clearly, lightning is drawn to the tallest point in an area, such as skyscrapers and television towers.
The second answer is that some single flashes of lightning actually strike in multiple places. A study funded by NASA described here, recorded that 35 percent of flashes captured in their sample had two or more strike points.
The third answer is not scientific at all, but it too, is not true. The idiom, lightning never strikes twice, can be interpreted to mean that the same, highly unlikely occurrence of bad luck or misfortune will not happen twice to the same person. Unfortunately, this is just not true as possibly some of you already know.
The final analysis is that lightning most certainly can and does strike twice in the same place. It can strike anything twice and is most definitely more drawn to the highest point. A single bolt of lightning can strike multiple times and, sadly, misfortune can come to people more often than once! One last note, my mother wasn’t quite correct when she said the rubber on the tires of a car is what grounds the lightning. It is actually the metal frame of the vehicle that directs the currents of lightning to the ground. I will be calling home tonight to let her know.