Lightning is an interesting phenomenon that strikes Earth 1,400,000,000 times in a year. It causes significant long-term damage to structures which is often hard to repair. It is worth exploring how much damage lightning can cause to large bodies of water if it hits it. 

Lightning strikes large bodies of water due to a path of low resistance. This being said, water is a conductor and attracts lightning. The shape, size, and depth of the waterbody are determinants of the likelihood of lightning striking the water.  

In this article, we’ll discuss the relationship between lightning and waterbodies. 

Does Lightning Only Hit Tall Objects?

A common misconception often floated is that lightning only hits tall objects like buildings, trees, houses, or poles. While these objects attract lightning and are highly vulnerable to being struck, objects that are small or flat surfaces are also likely to be affected. 

When lightning strikes, it looks for a path with the least resistance. In most cases, this path is available to tall objects, but shorter and lower objects have other objects that hinder access to them; however, if a flat surface has no resistance, lightning strikes. 

Does Lightning Strike Large Bodies Of Water?

As mentioned, if a low resistance path is available to the electric discharge, lightning will strike anywhere, irrespective of height and place. 

Large water bodies are the perfect surfaces with very low resistance and are hence common targets of lightning strikes. 

Lightning strikes oceans, lakes, and rivers often. When lightning strikes water, it can travel through it and potentially harm people and animals in the water or near it.

Factors That Increase The Likelihood Of Lightning Striking Water

The likelihood of lightning striking a large body of water is always present. However, some factors can increase or decrease this chance. Let us discuss this below. 

Presence Of Storms

When thunderstorms are present, the likelihood of lightning striking water is higher. This is because thunderstorms produce electrical charges in the atmosphere that can lead to lightning strikes. 

Proximity To Land

Being closer to land puts bodies of water at risk of getting an electrical charge. This may not happen directly but can be conducted from the land to the water. 

If cloud-to-ground lightning occurs, the energy can disperse into the water if it is close enough, causing the water to also charge. 

Shape And Size Of Body Of Water

The shape and size of the body of water can also affect the likelihood of lightning strikes. Before lightning strikes, a charge is built on the water’s surface. 

In water bodies that are narrow or small, there is not enough area for the charge to dissipate, and hence, they attract more lightning strikes. 

Similarly, the deeper the water body, the lower the chances of lightning striking it. 

Presence Of Conductive Objects

Sometimes, lightning is attracted to the objects on the water’s surface. These can be boats, piers, or other structures made of conductive materials. The lightning hits these objects and hence, causes an impact on the body of water. 

The Aftermath Of Lightning Striking Water

Negative effects are inevitable when such a powerful weather phenomenon hits the water. Most of the following events are recorded when lightning strikes water, and adequate preventive measures are suggested when the first sign of lightning is observed. 

  • Electrical Shock – Water is a great conductor of electricity. When lightning strikes water, any animal or person who is in contact with the water is at risk of being electrocuted. 
  • Water Displacement – When a sudden surge of energy is experienced in the water due to a lightning strike, the water moves around. The water likely displaces from its original position causing massive waves in other areas. 
  • Fire – If lightning strikes a boat or other object in the water, it can start a fire that can spread quickly due to the fuel source provided by the boat. The fire may spread further to other objects that conduct heat and may cause property loss and lives. 
  • Marine Life Casualties – Lightning can cause harm to marine life, such as fish, turtles, and other creatures that live in the water. When the water is electrified, any creatures swimming too close to the surface are electrocuted and die. 
  • Electrical Outages – In some cases, lightning strikes to water can cause electrical outages in nearby areas that rely on power from hydroelectric generators. These outages can last for days, depending on the damage that the lightning has caused. 

Safety Measures 

  • When you see the early signs of a thunderstorm, leave the water. Do not swim or boat around in the water; lightning travels through water, electrifies it, and can electrocute you. 
  • Apart from getting out of the water as soon as possible, it is also a good idea to avoid any objects that conduct electricity, such as metal boats or docks.
  • Seek shelter indoors or in a fully enclosed body if caught in a thunderstorm while on the water. If no shelter is available, stay as low as possible in the boat, away from metal objects, and avoid touching metal surfaces.
  • Do not go into proximity to tall objects. These include trees or poles. If any objects around you are upright, like a fishing pole, lower them so that the risk of them attracting lightning is lowered. 
  • Avoid being at the highest point in the water, such as standing on a paddleboard or swimming on the surface. Instead, stay low or dive underwater until the storm passes; this is very difficult but can work if the storm is short-lived. 
  • Wait 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning before resuming water activities. Lightning can strike even after a storm appears to have passed, so it’s important to wait for an appropriate amount of time before returning to the water.
  • If someone is struck by lightning while in the water, call for emergency help immediately and provide CPR if necessary. Lightning strikes can cause serious injuries or even death, so seeking medical attention as soon as possible is important.

Final Thoughts

Lightning is very powerful, causes energy surges, and can easily wipe out populations of marine animals and humans if it hits the water. To protect yourself, it is important to watch for early warning signs and take necessary precautions.