What Happens to Your Body When You're Hit by Lightning

The chances of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 13,000, and the odds of dying from a lightning strike are even lower. However, that doesn't keep the prospect of being struck by lightning from being morbidly fascinating and kind of terrifying. It just seems like Zeus is striking you down, or that you've won (or lost) some sort of ethereal lottery. Maybe you're wondering how it feels when you're struck by lightning. Well, thanks to some helpful survivors, we actually have a pretty solid idea of how that goes. 

When talking about what it's like to be hit by lightning, it's important to note that it's basically the biggest shock your body can take. You're getting hit with more electricity, heat, and force than you can get from basically anywhere else, so it's hard to compare to other things. However, your body does have a few ways of compensating, and the experience is bound to be, at the least, memorable.

So if you're still curious about what lightning strikes feel like, time to take a deep breath and keep reading. Some of these details, pictures, and concepts are a little graphic, so proceed with caution if you're squeamish. 

Photo: hipgnosis vision / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

  • You Might Feel Your Hair Stand on End Right Before You're Hit

    There are a few obvious signs that lightning is about to strike, such as the sound of thunder, dark clouds overhead, and flashes in the clouds or in the distance. However, there's another, more obvious way to tell that you're about to get a friendly hug from a lightning bolt. People who have been struck by lightning have reported that moments before they were hit, their hair stood on end.

    Some also report their metal jewelry vibrating or humming right before. If you start seeing these things happening, it's not time to snap selfies, no matter how funny it looks. It's time to seek shelter. 

  • You're Going to Feel a Genuine Impact

    So, you didn't find shelter, and that means a big bolt of lightning is coming for you. But it's just light and energy, right? It's not like something is actually going to hit you. Actually, that's exactly what it's going to feel like. People who are struck by lightning say that the impact is genuine and intense and feels less like being punched and more like being tackled.

    As Melvin Roberts, who was struck by lightning in 2011, tells it, "When it hits you, it's like being hit by a freight train. It knocks you out, knocks you down. You can tell what's around, you just don't have any control over your body."

    In other words, expect to not know what hit you right away.

  • You're Going to Burn

    One of the first clues you're going to have that you've just been the target of a lightning strike is the burning. I mean, it makes sense considering you're being exposed to heat that is five times that of the damned sun! But, of course, it won't feel like normal burning, and you'll only start feeling it after the strike is over. As one survivor puts it, "You don't feel the burns until it's over with. It cooks you from the inside out like being in a microwave."

    So... that sounds like fun. You'll also exhibit burns on the exterior of your body, especially your extremities. Some unfortunate people have even been so badly burned that they've lost limbs from it. 

  • You'll Be Able to See the Lightning on Your Skin

    Before you go out looking for a lightening bolt to give you this awesome-looking tattoo, be aware that what you're seeing is a burn. In fact, it's a sudden, intense burn that scars almost instantly as the lightning hits you, often called a Lichtenberg figure. Some people have these scars on their face, neck, back, and limbs for the rest of their lives after a strike.

    So if you see someone who has one of these on their body, you know they've either had a brush with some friendly lightning, or they know a pretty creative tattoo artist. 

  • You Will Be in Sudden, Searing Pain

    With the impact, the burning, and the scarring, you can bet that it's all going to hurt. As in, holy lightning bolts Batman, does that frickin' hurt! Most people say that they can feel the pain in their bones and that they barely recognize their own body due to all the pain and confusion they feel. Phil Broscovak, who was struck by lightning while on a rock climbing trip in 2005, explains it like this: "It felt like being stung by 10,000 wasps at the same time, from the inside out. I can’t describe how much pain I was in."

    So, at this point you're cooking, you feel like you've been punched, you're scarred up, and you're in searing pain. What more could go wrong?

  • Your Clothing May Literally Fly Off

    It's not too surprising that, while being literally knocked off your feet by a bolt of lightning, you might be thrown around a little. As it turns out, so will certain items of your clothing. People have reported their shoes and socks flying off, and other have reported their clothing tearing or burning off of their bodies suddenly. The shoes, in particular, seem to go flying due to the fact that the sudden, intense heat over your body vaporizes the moisture on your skin and clothes.

    If you have sweaty feet, the water vaporizes and expands so rapidly and unexpectedly that it can genuinely knock your shoes off. It can even send them tumbling some distance away!