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Where lightning strikes the most in Oklahoma

Lightning is one of the most deadly parts of a storm (File/KOKH).

While Oklahoma has not had much severe weather, so far, this year, even the smaller storms can be deadly. One of the deadliest parts of any storm is lightning.

One of the things that makes lightning so deadly is you never know exactly when or where it will strike.

However, one Oklahoman is not taking any more chances when it comes to lightning, because the odds, it would appear, are not in his favor when it comes to avoiding lightning.

“I can be in the house and big bolt or thunder or whatever and it makes me pretty jumpy,” Carl Mize told FOX 25 about his reaction to storms.

You cannot blame Mize for being a little leery during storm season. His friends and family feel it as well and make sure he is nowhere near severe storms.

“My phone blows up when there's a storm even in the area,” Mize said, “Even from out of state people that know there are bad storms in the area; I get texts or Facebook posts saying ‘I hope you're inside.”

Mize, who works on the campus of the University of Oklahoma has more than just a story to tell about lightning; he has six of them.

“It started out in [19]78, eighteen years old at a rodeo in Oolagah, Oklahoma,” Mize explained.

At the time, Mize was a bull rider and his event had just been called off for the day due to a severe storm that had rolled over the rodeo. He was just about to leave when lightning struck.

“Whenever I grabbed the handle on the door of my truck, lightning struck the truck knocked me back about four feet,” Mize said. He said the jolt was intense, but did not stop him from getting back on a bull when the rodeo resumed.

In 1994, while helping a friend move a storage building, Mize was using a large crowbar as a storm approached. “Lightning struck a telephone pole transformer right there beside us and that static came through that bar and shook, you know, jolted me,” Mize said.

“It just tenses all your muscles in your body,” Mize said of the direct and indirect hits by lightning. “The other times I’ve been struck it felt like you've been just beat up.”

Speaking of those “other times,” Mize says the one that sticks out the most was his third encounter with lightning in 1996. He was repairing a street light cable on the South Oval on the OU Campus and said he did not notice how quickly a storm was moving in.

“Lightning struck a cypress tree, about a 40-foot cypress tree, on the South Oval and split it to the ground and jumped over to the street light pole and through the cables it come around and went through one arm and out the other.”

Mize said the electrical current left burn marks on his chest.

“You talk about your whole body,” Mize recalled of the 1996 hit, “It just contracts all your muscles and I hurt from head to toe for several days.”

That’s just halfway through Mize’s encounters with lightning. His fourth incident came on one of Oklahoma’s more infamous weather days; May 3, 1999. Mize was about to take shelter in a friend’s basement, but was outside watching the massive wall cloud. He reached over to hold onto the metal chain of a porch swing hanging in a tree, when, as you might have guessed by now, lightning struck.

“Lightning strikes that tree and comes through that chain and knocks me back against the building with them watching out the [basement] window,” Mize said, “And it just made me sore.”

In 2002, Mize was at work again when he was called to an emergency repair. A water main break at the OU Airport left water standing on the ground. A storm started to move in as Mize recalled his coworkers joking about not being near him due to his past encounters with lightning.

It was about that time when, even though the storm was some distance away, lightning hit a backhoe at the repair site.

“[The lightning] goes out through that water and everybody else has rubber boots on because these guys are standing within arm’s length of me and it goes through my toe,” Mize said. He was just wearing tennis shoes, which ended up with a burned hole in the sole. “My foot bounced on the ground and knocked me back on the apron of the airport.”

A year later, almost to the date, Mize was caught outdoors again when another storm moved in while he was trying to finish an outdoor project. “A bright flash and lights…just bright lights and then I woke up on the ground,” Mize recalled of his sixth, and hopefully final, strike.

“Ever since then I make dang sure I try to get in out of the weather,” Mize said. “In the beginning you think it can't happen to you again, and I thought that; I was younger too.”

Mize says he is doing everything he can to avoid a seventh encounter with lightning. He shares his story to make sure other people know to stay indoors when bad weather is approaching because even if it is not actively storming over you, lightning can still strike.

“If you can just see a storm or a cloud from a distance you need to know that it can get you,” Mize said.

Lightning awareness is a goal that is shared by the Vaisala Corporation’s National Lightning Detection Network.

“There is no such thing as a lightning cloud to ground flash that isn't important,” said Vaisala meteorologist Ron Holle.

The National Lightning Detection Network, found that from 2008 to 2017, the top counties in Oklahoma for lightning strikes per square mile were:

  1. Latimer, OK: 24.08
  2. Pittsburg, OK: 23.44
  3. Pushmataha, OK: 23.05
  4. McCurtain, OK: 23.00
  5. Okfuskee, OK: 22.90
  6. Coal, OK: 22.12
  7. Okmulgee, OK: 22.11
  8. Haskell, OK: 22.00
  9. Pawnee, OK: 21.69
  10. McIntosh, OK: 21.66

In Oklahoma storms typically form in Western Oklahoma and move across the state. However, nearly all of the lightning-prone counties are in Southeast Oklahoma.

“That's the region where you have both the remnants of the north/south squall line and the nighttime systems coinciding,” Holle explained.

Holle says there is no safe lightning and that if you can hear the thunder the storm is too close. To avoid being hit by lighting you need to be in a sturdy building like a home or business. Outdoor picnic shelters, or a baseball dugout are not safe from lightning. Holle said a car can also provide protection from lightning, not because of the rubber tires.

“[A car] provides a path for lightning to go around you,” Holle said, “[It is] not a pleasant experience but definitely preferable to being outside.”

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