Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice…It Strikes Seven Times!

By Karen Harris

Cloud to cloud lightning. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Your chances of being struck by lightning are roughly 1 in 960,000. Your chances of being struck by lightning twice are 1 in about 9 million. Imagine the odds of being struck by lightning SEVEN times! It seems all but impossible, yet that’s exactly what happened to Roy Sullivan, a park ranger working in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan, who earned nicknames like the “Human Lightning Rod” and the “Spark Ranger," survived seven hits by lightning…a feat that earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Shenandoah National Park

Sullivan Spent a lot of Time Outdoors

Perhaps one reason why Roy Sullivan was so popular among lightning bolts is that he spent much of his time outdoors. As a national park ranger, most of his working hours were in the wooded area of the Shenandoah National Park. During the summer months, Virginia averages between 35 and 45 thunderstorms per day, increasing his odds of crossing paths with a lightning bolt. 

The First Hit

In his sixth year as a park ranger in April of 1942, Sullivan was stationed at the Miller’s Head fire tower. The tower was newly-built and hadn’t yet had lightning rods installed. When a thunderstorm rolled in, Sullivan made the wise decision to get off the tower and seek better shelter. But he wasn’t quick enough. He had taken only a few steps when he was struck. The lightning singed a narrow strip down the length of his right leg and blew off his big toe. The lightning exited through the sole of his boot, leaving a convenient opening to drain away all the blood that was filling up in his boot. 

A Dramatic Second Strike

Almost thirty years passed between Sullivan’s first lightning incident and his second. In 1969, Sullivan was driving through a wooded area of the Shenandoah National Park on a stormy day. Suddenly two trees on one side of the road were struck by lightning and the electricity jumped to another tree on the other side of the road. Sullivan, in his truck, was caught in the crossfire with his windows rolled down. Sullivan was knocked unconscious. The truck kept moving forward and missed a curve, coming to rest in dramatic fashion at the edge of a cliff. When he regained consciousness, Sullivan noticed that he was missing his eyelashes and eyebrows! 

Third Lightning Strike…No Workman’s Comp This Time

Sullivan was not at work when his third lightning strike happened. He was at home, tending his garden. Lightning hit a transformer on a nearby pole and then jumped to hit him in the shoulder. The impact knocked him down and left him with an interesting burn mark. 

Strike Number Four…Lightning Gets Serious

The fourth time Sullivan was hit by lightning, his hair caught on fire! Sullivan claims that there was no thunderstorm at the time, but there was a light rain. He was at a camp station in the national park, registering campers and assigning them to their campsites when he heard a tremendous clap of thunder that left his ears ringing. He felt his scalp tingle and heard a sizzling sound. Flames were shooting off his hair. Luckily, Sullivan was steps away from a bathroom so he could quickly douse the flames. 

The Fifth Attack

Sullivan was struck by lightning for the fifth time on August 7, 1973. He was patrolling in a park truck when a storm came blowing in. Aware that he seemed to attract lightning, Sullivan stepped on the gas and tried to outrun the storm. He thought he had succeeded, so he pulled the truck over and got out to watch the storm clouds. This time, Sullivan says he watched as the lightning shot out of the cloud and headed his way. The strike knocked off one of Sullivan’s work boots…but the laced remained tied. 

By Strike Number 6, Sullivan Had Enough

In 1976, Sullivan, now 64 years old, was strolling along a trail in the Shenandoah National Park when he was hit by lightning for the sixth time. He declared that he had had enough. He announced his retirement a few months later, but the lightning had one more surprise for him. 

Lucky Number Seven

Now happily enjoying retired life, Sullivan went trout fishing on June 25, 1977. He reported that he noticed an eerie tingling in the air that caused the hair on his arms to bristle. Moments later, he took a direct hit to the head. The lightning strike left burns on his head, chest and stomach and Sullivan noticed hearing loss in one of his ears. Sullivan was lucky to survive his seventh lightning strike…and lucky to escape harm from the black bear that was standing between him and his car! 

What Are the Odds?

We told you the odds of being struck by lightning once and even twice, but what are the odds of someone getting hit by lightning seven times. According to experts those odds are 1 in 100,000,000, 000,000, 000,000, 000,000, 000,000! That’s a lot of zeros! When Sullivan died in 1983, it wasn’t the lightning that finally got him. It was a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a bad break up. It seems that Sullivan was as unlucky in love as he was with lightning. 

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.