WASHINGTON — Lightning – once one of nature’s biggest killers – is claiming far fewer lives in the United States, mostly because we’ve learned to get out of the way.

In the 1940s, when there were fewer people, lightning killed more than 300 people annually. So far this year, 13 people have died after being struck, on pace for a record low of 17 deaths. Taking the growing population into account, the lightning death rate has shrunk more than fortyfold since record-keeping began in 1940.

People seem to be capturing the phenomenon more on camera than before, making it seem like something new and sizzling is going on in the air. Separate videos last month of a Florida lifeguard and an airport worker being hit by lightning went viral. Both victims survived.

Lightning strikes have not changed – they hit about the same amount as they used to, said Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor Paul Markowski.

Lightning deaths could hit a record low of 17 this year, down from hundreds in the 1940s. Associated Press/Orlin Wagner

A big difference: Fewer of us are outside during bad weather. If we’re not huddled indoors, we’re often in cars. Vehicles with metal roofs – not convertibles – are safe from lightning, experts say.

“As a society we spend less time outside,” said Harold Brooks, a scientist at the National Weather Service’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. “Especially farmers. There aren’t just many farmers around.”

Decades ago, farmers would be in fields and were the tallest object, making them most likely to get hit, said National Weather Service lightning safety specialist John Jensenius Jr.

That helps explain the drop in yearly lightning deaths from about 329 in the 1940s to about 98 in the 1970s. The numbers have kept plunging since. From 2007-2016, average yearly deaths dropped to 31.

Improved medical care also has played a key role, including wider use of defibrillators and more CPR-trained bystanders. Now instead of treating lightning patients the same way as people who touch high-voltage wires and are burned, doctors focus more on the neurological damage, said Mary Ann Cooper, professor emerita of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Perhaps the biggest reason deaths are down is because of efforts to teach people not to get hit in the first place.

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