Just How Unlikely Are You to Get Hit By Lightning?

A new Google Map shows how Massachusetts measures up.

We use the odds of getting struck by lightning as a benchmark by which to measure other unlikely events, so obviously, it’s a pretty rare thing (though not so rare as winning a Powerball jackpot, unfortunately).

But in this winter of storms, maybe it’s worth asking: just how rare? Are we better off here in Massachusetts than somewhere else? Actually, yes. Instances of lightning striking humans or destroying our property are not spread out evenly across the country. A NOAA map shows that Massachusetts  had relatively few fatalities by lightning from 1959 to 2011, especially when you account for our population. Florida wasn’t quite so lucky. (Perhaps it was all those golf clubs they stick up in the air.)


Now, there’s a new Google Map Gallery map highlighted by The Atlantic, showing “Lightning Spatial Hazard Events and Losses for the United States, 1995-2009” that gives us even greater insight into our relative odds of incurring the wrath of Zeus. The map includes not just fatalities but injuries, property damage, and crop damage, totaling up all those “events” and shading the nation’s counties according to their frequency. With more than simply fatalities included in the measure, Massachusetts suddenly looks a little less lucky. We, like much of the well-populated Northeast United States, are shaded a darker red than the rest of the country. If you click on each county, it shows the breakdown of event types. There’s a silver lining for Boston: relatively within the state, Suffolk County saw slightly fewer lightning events than its surrounding counties.

Now, we don’t advocate you acting on this information by, say, moving from Norfolk County to Suffolk (or from Massachusetts to Oregon). But next time someone tells you you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than win that lottery jackpot, know that the gap isn’t quite as large as it might be. (It’s really, really big, though.)