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Q: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   7 Comments )
Subject: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
Category: Science
Asked by: tkc-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 29 Oct 2002 11:58 PST
Expires: 28 Nov 2002 11:58 PST
Question ID: 92283
How many people in the USA are injured or killed each year by
lightening that
strikes nearby and is then channeled thru the television or phone they
are using, or, how many people were injured or killed over the past
10-20 years in this way?  The more breakdown, the better, and source
reference(s) would be great.  Thanks.
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
Answered By: journalist-ga on 29 Oct 2002 12:39 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Greetings!  In regards to your question heading "How Dangerous is a TV
or Phone During a Thunderstorm?", this is offered from the web site
located at

"Avoid using phones and only use cell phones or cordless phones.

"If you need to use the phone, corded phones are dangerous during
thunderstorms. Lightning traveling through the telephone wires has
killed people. Cell phone and cordless phones are a safer choice, but
stand away from the cell or cordless phone's power base. Be sure to
keep your cordless and cell phones charged; they may not work if your
power goes out."

and for televisions, it states:

"Stop playing video games connected to your TV

"Electronic equipment with handsets, joysticks, and headsets connected
by wiring to your TV, computer, or stereo are dangerous during
thunderstorms. Stop playing—and stop your children from playing—video
games connected to TV during thunderstorms. The wiring creates a path
for lightning to reach you from outside your home."

As far as plumbing goes (the old "Don't take a bath when it's
lightning!) if you have metal pipes connected to a bathtub or toilet,
then keep away from them during a thunderstorm.  However, if your home
has PVC pipes, plastic isn't known to conduct a lightning strike. 
This topic is also covered on the above site.

Regarding lightning strike statistics for death and injury in the US,
the web site has a
section of links for charts of lightning strikes.  The index is at

1959-1997 U. S. Lightning Injuries Chart

1959-2000 U. S. Lightning Fatalities Chart

The web site Survive Outdoors
( has text
which reads "The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates
there are 200 deaths and 750 severe injuries from lightning each year
in the US."  There are other statistics at that site as well that I
believe you may find helpful.

For 2001 statistics, I located "According to preliminary data there
were at least 41 lightning deaths in the US in 2001 and 187 injuries
reported" at the web site and the report also
stated "The total deaths from lightning in the US for previous years
is 1999 – 46, 1998 – 44, 1997 – 42, 1996-53 and 1995 – 69. When you
compare the data from 1959 to 1999, Texas is ranked second in the
number of lightning deaths with 183 to Florida who is ranked number 1
with 390 lightning deaths."

I also found this statistic for 1980-1995 at

"In the United States from 1980 through 1995, a total of 1318 deaths
were attributed to lightning, (average: 82 deaths per year {range:
53-100 deaths}). Of the 1318 persons who died, 1125 (85%) were male,
and 896 (68%) were aged 15-44 years. The annual death rate from
lightning was highest among persons aged 15-19 years (6 deaths per
10,000,000 population; crude rate: 3 per 10,000,000). The greatest
number of deaths attributable to lightning occurred in Florida and
Texas (145 and 91, respectively), but New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas,
and Mississippi had the highest rates (10.0, 9.0, 9.0, and 9.0,

I hope this information is of assistance in your quest and if you need
any clarification before rating my answer, please ask.


how dangerous is TV during thunderstorm

lightning strike statistics US

lightning strike deaths US 2001

lightning strike deaths US

Request for Answer Clarification by tkc-ga on 30 Oct 2002 07:54 PST
My apologies, I read after I posted the question that I should have
listed what I had already discovered, and much of this I already knew.
 I am not trying to determine a statistical risk, nor find out about
lightning deaths in general.  I have heard for years that you could be
electrocuted by lightning coming thru the phone, or exploding out of a
TV screen, and actually taught that as "fact" in a college electronics
class.  But I have been unable to find a single documented example of
either.  I'm begining to believe this may actually be one of the
oldest of urban myths, and I would like to prove it one way or the
other for my own satisfaction (and to correct my lecture notes).  So,
I am looking ONLY for the number of instances of lightning injuring
someone in these ways.



Clarification of Answer by journalist-ga on 30 Oct 2002 09:16 PST
No apologies necessary.  :)  That said, I have continued research and
discovered a report at by Vincent
Mallette.  In the article, an instance of telephone lightning is
mentioned but no mention of death:

"In late July, here in the Atlanta area, a woman was hurt by a
lightning strike as she talked on the telephone during a storm."
Gwinnett Daily News, July 25, 1991 (from his footnotes)

There are instances of lightning death mentioned in that article, but
not with a phone or TV.

From another report (which lists many instances of lightning strikes):

"A person talking on a cordless telephone in the living room of her
house was slightly injured by a lightning strike."
From (but no
date given)

A phone eletrocution bit from Urban Legends but this pertains to
Australia: (this was
found from a link on the site

Jaine Treadwell of a newspaper called The Messenger
[] reported
in an article:

""You should never use a telephone during a storm except in case of an
emergency," he said [Larry Davis, Pike County emergency management
director]. "Several people are killed by lightning each year while
talking on the telephone. Lightning can run in on a telephone, so stay
away from them. A cell phone has no electrical lines so they are
alright to use.""

The newspaper's email to the newsroom is  You may be able to contact Mr. Davis
through the newspaper and ask him his source for his quote.

At there is a
lengthy report/study of "Behavioral Consequences of Lightning and
Electrical Injury" by Margaret Primeau, Ph.D., Gerolf H. Engelstatter,
Ph.D., A.B.M.P., I.A.B.C.P., and Kimberly K Bares, M.S. [Seminars in
Neurology, Volume 15, Number 3, September 1995] but it only deals with
telephone injuries in Australia.

"Many consider the telephone safe from lightning, but lightning
strikes during telephone calls caused 4 deaths and 36 injuries from
1959-1965. Side flashes to people from telephones, plumbing fixtures,
and appliances connected to the outside by metal conductors have
injured people inside buildings."

The above footnoted "Shantha TR: Causalgia induced by
telephone-mediated lightning electrical injury and treated by
interpleural block [letter]. Anesth Analg 1991 Oct; 73(4): 507-8". 
You might find the actual case studies in that report.  I found an
email for the author on the site by searching a part of the
title at Google.

A comprehensive report of lightning in the Southeast showed statistics
for telephone injury at
and also stated "During the period of record, at least three people
were killed and five injured by lightning while they were talking on
the telephone. A recent death occurred in Greenville County when
lightning struck a tree near an office building and killed a man
inside the office talking on the telephone."  This was under the South
Carolina sub-heading of the report but it may be the lightning didn't
come through the phone, only that he was talking on the phone when it

I did find a report from but it made no
mention of telephone or television.  The report is titled
"Lightning-Associated Deaths -- United States, 1980-1995"

I hope this additional research proves helpful.  Should you need
further clarification before rating, please ask and I'll be happy to
continue research for you in this area.


killed by lightning telephone
electrocution phone lightning
electrocution telephone lightning
electrocution telephone lightning US killed
"Causalgia induced by telephone-mediated lightning electrical injury"
death lightning telephone US statistics
electrocution telephone lightning US cases
death lightning telephone US statistical
(NOTE: I replaced the words "telephone" and "phone" above with
"television" and also conducted searches in that area)

Request for Answer Clarification by tkc-ga on 30 Oct 2002 12:56 PST

Comments on the 2 parts:

Telephones - The Urban Myth site and several other sources you listed
included a ref to a paper done in Australia: Andrews CJ. Darveniza M.,
"Telephone-mediated lightning injury: an Australian survey." Journal
of Trauma. 29(5):665-71, 1989.  I couldn't find the paper itself, but
the abstract of this scientific survey provided the confirmation of
your other sources that I was looking for: "Each year in Australia,
about 60 people report injuries attributable to lightning surges while
using a telephone during nearby thunderstorms..." (I originally
requested data from the USA, but only because I thot I would have to
bound the domain in some way.)  I consider this part answered, "Yes,
phones are potentially dangerous during a thunderstorm."

Televisions - I presume from your comment that you performed an
identical search for injuries from TVs when the building is struck by
lightning, but found no data.  Obviously, if a person is touching the
device, they could be injured in just the same way as being on the
phone.  However, the specific mechanism I had always heard about was
that lightning can cause a surge in the TV supply voltage, which is
conducted to the amplification coils surrounding the CRT, and becomes
so amplified that an electrical discharge literally explodes from the
screen, electrocuting anyone nearby.  In theory that sounds plausable,
but again, I've never heard of it happening. (And if you think about
it, someone could have exploited that property by now and created one
heck of a weapon.) A quick scan of the references you provided didn't
hint at anything like this, so unless you have found something new, I
will consider this part to be "myth."



Clarification of Answer by journalist-ga on 30 Oct 2002 13:54 PST
[post comment - see below in Comments section]  Well, I had to come
into Clarification to clear my account highlight.  Hope this won't
pose a problem on your end.
tkc-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00

Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: fezzik-ga on 29 Oct 2002 12:52 PST
I guess the question is, how dangerous is it really, to use a
telephone or bathtub during a thunderstorm?

Are there any statistics on how many people were hurt or killed in
these scenarios?  Percentage wise, how likely is it to happen?

Based on the general statistics, it sounds like an extremely rare
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: eloff-ga on 29 Oct 2002 14:42 PST
When calculating risk for a particular activity or situation you need
to put it in perspective. With only 85 deaths per year out of the
approx. 300 million people in the USA and even less of those deaths
resulting from people being killed by lightning while using a
telephone, computer, or television, the risk is negligible. More
people are killed each year just walking around In their home!
Compared to risks you take on a daily basis, using a telephone in an
electrical storm is comparatively safe. Also to address the question
of using a television in an electrical storm, it is probably perfectly
safe unless you are somehow connected by conductive material (like an
old style controller with a wire or a video game controller) or are
sitting too close.
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: owq-ga on 30 Oct 2002 01:54 PST
I thought some places have circuit breakers?
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: journalist-ga on 30 Oct 2002 13:52 PST
Thank you for your rating and your added generosity!  :)  To answer
you question regarding "performed an identical search for injuries
from TVs" the answer is yes.  I didn't list the same searches phrases
with "TV" or "television" because I felt it would have added
unnecessary length to your answer.

Your statement "...if you think about it, someone could have exploited
that property by now and created one heck of a weapon"...well, you may
have just gived one of our "US secret ops" a great idea!  lol  This
was a fascinating question to research and I'm happy I was able to
meet your needs with my answer.  Also, Australia does seem to be a
lightning strike capital.

PS - I am commenting in this Comments section so as not to have you
account Clarification highlighted again.
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: tkc-ga on 30 Oct 2002 14:17 PST
I think they have probably already thot of it. :-)  Thanks!  --TKC
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: neilzero-ga on 30 Oct 2002 15:53 PST
TV sets generally have both fuses and circuit breakers, but the
lightning voltage is often high enough to jump the gap in blown fuses,
tripped circuit breakers, and a power switch that is switched off.
Unplugging the tv usually provides a gap too wide to jump, but the
lightning can come in the antenna lead in or the cable from the cable
company. To be safer, you should not come closer than one foot of any
applience that is connected to a pipe, wire, or other elevated metal
object. Even if you heed none of the precautions, there are at least
100 ways you are stastically more likely to die or suffer a serious
injury. With moderate precautions there are thousands of ways you are
more likely to die or suffer a serious injury, so we will be a basket
case of stress if we fret more than slightly about things such as
being struck by lightning. I believe more than half of the lightning
deaths occur outside so almost any kind of man-made structure is safer
than under a tree at the top of a hill or ridge. Inside a car or other
vehicle with a metal roof is thought to be very safe.   Neil
Subject: Re: How Dangerous is a TV or Phone During a Thunderstorm?
From: neilzero-ga on 30 Oct 2002 16:32 PST
The "amplification" coils  TK mentioned are degausing coils (they
demagnetize the TV screen), which could be energized to a thousand
times their normal current for a few micro seconds by lightning. I
should think the lethal range would almost always be less than one
foot. There are deflection coils on the neck of the picture tube, but
they are typically about 2 feet from where a person is likely to be,
and are much less likely to be energized significantly by lightning
due to the way TVs are wired. Amplification could boost the power on
old tube type TVs, but boost (by two) from solid state components
would last less than a microsecond, I think.  Neil

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