With summer comes thunderstorms in many areas of the world. Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela has been listed as the lightning capital of the world, with storms lighting up the skies almost 300 nights each year, according to a NASA study. Lightning kills approximately 73 people a year in the United States alone. Most strikes kill one victim at a time, but on June 26, 1807, lightning hit a gunpowder factory in the small European country of Luxembourg, and that day, the lightning killed more than 300 people. The Luxembourg disaster may have been the deadliest lightning strike in history.

Luxembourg was occupied by Napoleon’s army in 1807. The French dictator used the country to stockpile weapons and ammunition, or shall we say hide them from the view of those he didn’t want to know about them. Napoleon built a number of underground bunkers for this very purpose. In the southern part of Luxembourg city of Kirchberg, a fortress built in 1732 was used as an armory. It was here, on June 26, when lightning struck the fortress that disaster followed. When lightning struck, the ammunition located in the structure ignited on contact. The explosion that followed was massive. The blast took out two entire blocks, which caused several other fires to rage nearby. The London Times later reported, “This city has been plunged into the greatest consternation and distress.” This strike has been considered one of the worst lightning disasters of all time…mostly because of the number of lives lost.

The earth receives 8 to 9 million lightning strikes every day…wow!! The United States alone sees about 70,000 thunderstorms a typical year. In those storms, approximately 20 million lightning strikes are produced in a year. Lightning can create beautiful shots for photographers, and I doubt if there is one person who can honestly say they are not enamored with the beauty of lightning, but the thing to understand is that a bolt of lightning can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in that instant when it strikes. In that beauty hides an average of 100 million volts of electricity, and a lightning bolt can be as much as five miles long. Lightning can strike from a storm that is miles away, so when you hear that rumble, it really is time to seek shelter. Of course, you can and should act in a preventative way when it comes to lightning safety. Keep an eye on the forecast and plan with the weather in mind, especially if those plans were going to take you near the water. Beaches are dangerous because lightning tends to strike the highest object, and water is a good conductor of electricity, so you don’t want to be in it. If someone nearby does get hit by lightning, remember that the lightning victim doesn’t hold the electric charge. Call 911 and begin first aid right away. About 90% of lightning victims survive, but they need immediate medical attention. Remember, that while lightning is beautiful, it is best viewed from a safe place indoors.

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