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”
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.