Lightning Lore: Did They Get It Wrong?

Does the old saying, "lightning never strikes twice in the same place" hold true? Find out what Mother Nature has to say about it!

According to weather lore, “lightning never strikes twice.” 

Unfortunately, folklore got this one wrong.

Yes, lightning strikes twice (and sometimes more than two times). While it is rare, lightning actually can strike the same spot (or almost the same spot) multiple times during a storm.

In February 2017, lighting struck the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington twice within one hour. Lightning hardly ever strikes the Space Needle, largely because thunderstorms are uncommon in Seattle. But what made this occurrence even rarer was that the double strikes happened during a thundersnow event (a snowstorm so strong, it produces thunder and lightning). Back in 2011, New York’s Empire State Building was hit by lightning not twice, but three times in a row during a spring thunderstorm. And if you think that’s impressive, it’s said the building was once struck eight times in less than 30 minutes!

While lightning can strike any location more than once, skyscrapers and radio towers, such as the Empire State Building and Space Needle, have a greater chance for a multiple strike. One reason why is because they’re so tall. Lightning is “attracted” to tall buildings because their tops are closer to the storm cloud (the less air the positive and negative charges have to travel through in order to meet, the easier it is for lightning to strike). The more lightning is drawn to an object, the more chances it has to strike it during a storm, and more often.

Another reason tall structures are prone to double lightning strikes is due to lightning rods. These metal sticks sit atop buildings in order to attract lightning. (The metal runs along the outside of the building, channeling electricity away from its interior and the people inside.)

If it’s untrue, why does this folklore exist?

Lightning occurs when air high up in the clouds having a negative electrical charge meets positively charged air near the ground. When these opposite charges build up enough and attract, it creates a giant spark of electricity – lightning! After lightning strikes an object, air’s positive and negative charges lessen. Each must build up again before another lightning bolt can form and hit the exact same spot. It’s sometimes easier for lightning to form at another spot where the charges are already accumulated, hence, we say it doesn’t strike the same spot twice in a row.

A Double Meaning
The saying lightning never strikes twice has another meaning too: a highly unlikely event does not happen twice in one day or happen to the same person twice. If that unlikely event is a bit of good luck, we hope this interpretation of the saying is also untrue!

Have you ever seen lightning strike twice or more times? Share your sightings in the comments!

Like what you just read? You’ll enjoy “Struck by Lightning: True Life Tales”

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Tiffany Means

Tiffany Means is a freelance writer and a degreed meteorologist. She specializes in weather forecasting and enjoys making the subject of weather (and the science behind it) more relatable. She currently resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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Diane S.

So interesting. Lightening fascinates me. I grew up in Southern California then spent time north of Seattle, both where lightening & thunder are unusual. Now I am living on the Front Range of the Rockies, below Pikes Peak & the thunder will send me running for shelter. We have had quite a few thunderstorms this summer so I am getting used to it. Love how the TV forecasters warn the public that if you hear thunder go inside til it passes! Sage advise for sure. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I can’t imagine being struck even once!

Carl Rodgers

I went on to read your “Struck by Lightning: True Life Tales”. I didn’t realize the odds, but I have been indirectly struck by lightning four times in my life. I grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan, so we had work to do, whatever the weather. My first strike was when I was about 5 years old. I was holding the flashlight while my father was working on a tractor. I had my hand on him and he had a screwdriver in his hand working on the tractor tire rim. The lightning struck the exhaust pipe on the tractor throwing both of us away from the tractor. I don’t remember what I felt like, but was crying and carried into the barn.
My second lightning strike was when I was about 10 years old. We were having a bad thunderstorm and I was running to the barn to do chores. The lightning struck the power line going to the barn and blew me right off my feet. I landed on the ground, not sure if I was struck or just jumped out of my shoe’s in fear of the loud bang.
My third lightning experience was when I was 17. We were in the middle of a bad thunderstorm and had lost power. We still needed to milk the cows so we were in the middle of hooking the vacuum pump up to the manifold on the tractor to create vacuum for the Surge single milker’s to work. The lightning struck the power line going into the barn and arced down to the exhaust pipe on the vacuum pump behind me. It through me about 15 feet away and I saw a huge ball of blue fire. The strike blew all the lightbulbs out of their sockets and melted the fuse box in the barn. I have not been able to wear a wind up watch since. I can stall them out within an hour of putting them on. A young man who worked for me twenty years later didn’t believe me so I put on his watch and it stopped within ten minutes. I took it off and it started back up about twenty minutes later. He asked me to put It back on and it quit within five minutes. It never ran again. We left it sit for two days and then threw it out.
My fourth encounter with lightning was earlier this year in June. My wife was going away for the weekend with her sister to the Michigan Nascar Race. I was fixing the driveway from the flood we had earlier that week and was hurrying to get things done so I could watch the Grandkid’s for the weekend. We had six inches of rain and washed out the driveway on Wednesday evening. I finished rebuilding the driveway and decided to hurry and clean out the drainage furrow in the garden before going into the house. It was getting darker sky’s and looking like rain. I had on my rubber knee boots and shorts, because it was so muddy in the garden. I was hoeing the trench out when lightning struck a brush pile about 20 feet away. It was extremely loud and I saw debrie fly into the air and striking me with small pieces. All the hair on my body was standing straight out and I felt light as air. Needless to say, I ran all the way into the house and stayed inside until well after the storm had passed. I’m sure if I did not have rubber boots on, it would have killed me. I count my blessing and have a lot more respect for the weather now that I’m crowding 60, but there was no sign of lightning at all. It did not rain for about 20 minutes later, with very little lightning during the storm.

Sandi Duncan

Wow! Carl what stories! Thank you for sharing! Four times – that must be a record. It sounds like maybe you should stay inside when the rain clouds come. Appreciate you sharing your story here and wish you luck when the next thunderstorm comes!

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