Can you be killed during a thunderstorm while talking on a cell phone or watching TV?
Lightning kills about 100 people each year in the U.S., but very rarely from
talking on the phone or watching TV. Most people killed are outdoors, in
exposed areas when thunderstorms develop or move into the area. Florida
leads the nation most years with lightning-related deaths. This is because
they have a long thunderstorm season, and they have a lot of outdoor related
recreation activities. Most death occur on golf courses, in boats on lakes
or rivers, and even on athletic fields. Farming or farm-related activities
accounts for some of the deaths also, where workers are in open areas.
It is possible to be injured if you are holding a telephone handset, or
any other electrical appliance if lightning strikes the phone lines or
electrical lines near your house, although that would be very rare. The
electrical surge that occurs when lightning strikes part of the electrical
circuitry commonly damages appliances such as televisions, electric stoves,
stereo systems, etc.
Wendell Bechtold, Meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO
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Update: June 2012