It may seem unreal to survive a direct lightning strike to the brain, yet it happens more often than you might think. Even though the chances of getting hit by lightning are extremely low—1 in 1.2 million in the US in any one year and 1 in 15,300 over a lifetime, according to statistics—it’s nevertheless important to learn how people have survived such uncommon and devastating occurrences.
A potentially life-saving component has been revealed by recent research: moisture. A recent study suggests that people who have damp hair may have a higher probability of surviving a direct lightning strike to the head. The research investigated the phenomena of surface flashover, which is a discharge route over the outer skin created by a large voltage differential during a lightning strike. The team doing the study was interested by the evidence of such survivability.
In order to replicate real-world situations, the researchers built human head “phantoms” and tested them in controlled environments. These phantoms, which stood in for the scalp, skull, and brain, were exposed to both dry and wet electric charges. They made an amazing discovery.
While most of the electric current traveled across the outer surface of both dry and wet phantom heads, the wet head showed significant advantages. The brain layer of the wet head absorbed 13 percent lower average electrical current and 33 percent less energy compared to the dry head. Additionally, the wet head sustained less damage overall.
Although the study had limitations, including the absence of hair or headwear covering the phantoms and the lower amplitudes compared to real lightning strikes, the findings provide a compelling basis for further investigation.
Understanding the potential protective effects of moisture on the skin during lightning strikes could inform safety protocols and save lives in thunderstorm-prone areas. As the researchers aptly put it, “rain-wet skin might have better lightning strike protective behavior than dry skin,” offering hope amidst the rare but terrifying prospect of a direct lightning strike.