How is it Possible to Survive a Lightning Strike?

Lightning travels through the air as slow as 100 miles per second and as fast as 1,000 miles per second.  The temperature of a lightning bolt is an astounding 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s hotter than the surface of sun and almost as hot as the sidewalks of Northwest Florida in the middle of October.  Almost.  The question becomes, then, exactly how could someone actually survive being hit by a bolt of lightning?  It defies reason.  And yet there it is; historical accounts of people actually surviving this nightmarish circumstance. 

Even those who do survive a direct hit by a lightning are not spared the full effects.  The victim of a lightning strike is almost always going to be burned, and quite badly.  Some victims lose their memories, some experience paralysis, and some lightning victims suffer other irreparable injuries.  But some, many in fact, do survive.  They go on living.  It is, when you consider the consequences, a genuinely extraordinary thing. 

Lightning itself is really nothing more than a spark of electricity that is created on account of the difference in energy that exists between clouds and the air and the ground.  The energy looks to discover the shortest route down to earth and that route may lead to a building, a tree, or a human being.  Often a lightning strike hits a human in the shoulder rather than the head and it then travels down the side of the body, shooting down a leg before winding up at its original destination site, the ground.  The passage of a bolt of lightning through the human body is going to cause pain, obviously, because anything six times hotter than the surface of the sun is going to create residual pain even it shoots through you at 1,000 miles per second.  In addition to burns, the lightning bolt can also shock you.  But here’s the secret behind why that lightning bolt can rip through your body from shoulder to knees to toes and not leave you as dead as George W. Bush’s legacy as the education President. 

The overwhelmingly large bulk of energy produced by lightning discharged into the ground and not the body.  Therefore, unless the lightning bolt passes directly through the heart or the spinal column, the chances are actually pretty good that an otherwise healthy person will not die from being hit by a lightning strike.  Should the energy of the lightning pass through the heart, however, the chances increase exponentially that it can stop beating, get irreparably damaged, or even stop.  The result of that would be instant death and that does sometimes occur during a lightning strike.