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Forensic science is unlocking the mysteries of fatal lightning strikes

Screen Shot 2021-11-16 at 12.33.27 PM

Source: Patrick Randolph-Quinney, Nicholas Bacci, Tanya Nadine Augustine, The Conversation, 3 November 2021, photo credit: Asia One/Stomp

Lightning is one of the most powerful sources of energy in the natural environment. As anyone who has spent time in Johannesburg during the South African summer will attest, there is nothing as spectacular as a Highveld thunderstorm at the end of a long, hot day: the scent of petrichor, torrents of cooling rain, booms of thunder and great spears of lightning across the sky.

These storms are awe inspiring – but also dangerous to people, animals and the built environment. African countries, among them Zambia and Uganda, have some of the highest lightning fatality rates in the world. In South Africa, more than 250 people are killed by lightning annually.

The exact number of deaths isn’t clear, due to under reporting, but estimates from 28 countries suggest there are up to 24,000 lightning fatalities annually worldwide.
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