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WQAD.com

What are the odds of dying from COVID-19 vs. lightning?

As more deaths occur, the risk of Covid-19 death is expected to go up.

We know what we should be doing to curb the spread of Covid-19, but what are the statistical odds you'll contract the disease and die from it?

Yesterday on social media, News 8 viewer 'Garrett' said, "You're about as likely to get the coronavirus as getting struck by lightning."

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to say. At first thought, I wasn't confident of the answer so I decided to find the facts. I also solicited Stormtrack 8 Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke to find them as well to see if we could make the same conclusion independently.

First, let's look at the statistics around lightning deaths. According to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, 49 Americans are killed on average every year. In order to compute the odds of dying, we have to find the total population of the United States. That's 325,000,000. 

In order to compute the odds, we have to assume that the people who live are successful and those who die are unsuccessful. 

The equation for odds is Chance of Success (living) divided by the Chance of Failure (dying).

That yields a 1:6,632,653 chance of dying by lightning strike.

Using data for tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center reports an average 25 deaths per year. 

That yields a 1:13,000,000 chance of dying from a tornado.

Before analyzing Covid-19 data, let's take a look at the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 50,000 deaths in the United States each year due to influenza.

That yields a 1:6,500 chance of dying from the flu. 

We have to keep in mind that this is on average for all people. Older people and those with underlying conditions have a higher risk of flu death. Conversely, those who are young and healthy, the risk is lower. 

That brings us to Covid-19 and why finding the exact odds are a little difficult. First of all, we haven't had Covid-19 around us for a year. So we don't have an average number of deaths to work with. And much like influenza, the risk isn't the same for younger and older people and those who are healthy and with pre-existing conditions. 

For the sake of this examination, we are using 140,000 for deaths (although it's likely we will see many more by the end of the calendar year). 

That yields a 1:2,321 chance of dying from Covid-19. 

So, what does this mean? The odds of a lightning fatality are like finding one random person in the entire state of Illinois per year (since Illinois has about 13 million people). 

The odds of a tornado fatality are like finding two random people from the entire population of the state of Iowa. 

The odds of influenza taking a life is like finding one person in the city of Eldridge, Iowa (population 6,500), as well as every group that size.

When we look at Covid deaths, the chance is considerable. So far this year, one in 2,321 has died from it. And as it kills more people, the risk goes up. 

In other words, we can't compare the very small chance of a lightning strike or tornado to Covid-19. 

Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay safe!

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen