cottonwood struck by lightning (16521 bytes)

Why trees are struck by lightning

By Joe Julian, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Horticulture/Entomology

Why are trees struck by lightning?

Trees function as lightning rods, conducting electrical charges from the clouds. Oaks, elms, pines, spruce, poplars, maples and ash are most likely to receive a lightning hit. Trees that stand alone, rise above other trees or that are close to water are most frequently struck. Beech, birch and horsechestnut receive the fewest strikes. Deeper-rotted, decayed and dying trees are more prone than shallow-rotted, healthy trees. A tree closer to the house is more likely to receive a lightning hit than another tree of the same species and height 10 feet further from the house. The house plumbing gives the closer tree a better ground to conduct an electrical charge. Of 500 lightning bolt deaths and injuries, 63 occurred beneath trees with golf courses the most likely site for an outdoor strike.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010