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Lightning strikes killed fewer Americans than ever in 2013

Greg Lehman / Union-Bulletin via AP, file

Dual bolts of lightning strike along Highway 12 just north of Walla Walla, Wash., at the height of an evening storm.

Lightning strikes killed fewer people in the U.S. last year than in any other year on record, officials said Thursday.

Just 23 people died as a direct result from lightning strikes in 2013, according to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This is in contrast with 1943, the deadliest year for lightning strikes in the U.S. when 432 people were struck and killed.

"It was another good year in terms of lightning fatalities in the U.S.," said John Jensenius, NOAA's specialist on lightning safety.

"While we don't like to see any lightning deaths, the continuing reduction in yearly fatalities is encouraging."

Jensenius said the reduction was due to the increased promotion of lightning safety and awareness by emergency services and the media.

The idea of getting struck by lightning has always been equated to something rare and unlikely, but records show dying from a strike is more common than from other natural phenomena. Since NOAA records began in 1940, more than 9,200 people have been killed in the U.S. by lightning. This compares to around 7,400 killed by tornadoes, 7,500 killed by floods and 3,300 killed by hurricanes. 

People were killed by lightning in a wide range of circumstances.

Two men, 25-year-old Scotty Elam, Jr. and 29-year-old Bobby Lee Maggard, died in the same lightning strike while hanging tobacco in Madison County, Kentucky, on Aug. 21.

In San Antonio, 8-year-old Mohammad Algargaz was killed while playing in his backyard on Sept. 5.

And Drew Pearson, 30, was killed while fishing in a canoe in Big Lake, Ariz., on Sept. 20, in what was the last lightning death of the year.

Twenty-three Boy Scouts were hospitalized with minor burns after a lightning strike in New Hampshire in June. The NOAA did not publish figures for the number of people injured by lightning throughout the year.

Florida and Arizona saw the most lightning strikes in 2013, with four each. Texas, Illinois, and Kentucky each had two deaths.