Investigating the risk of lightning’s pressure blast wave

  • Ryan Blumenthal Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Nicholas J. West School of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Keywords: lightning, flash moisture vaporisation theory, sixth mechanism theory, barotrauma, keraunomedicine, keraunopathology


We investigated the pathology of human trauma associated with lightning’s pressure blast wave. Within what range is a human at risk and what are the risks? Two theories for the trauma currently exist: the flash moisture vaporisation theory and the sixth mechanism theory. We performed a simple proof-of-concept experiment in a high-voltage laboratory to determine which theory makes for better predictions. The experiment confirmed the existence of a non-discriminant pressure blast wave around a spark in air. The lightning data were compared with the known medical data. Findings may now help explain some of the more curious lightning injury patterns seen on lightning-strike victims.

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