Iowa deputy’s dashcam captures stunning display of lightning strikes during thunderstorm

Lightning strikes kill around two dozen people each year in the U.S. and injure hundreds more. More than 240 million lightning bolts were detected across the country in 2023.

SIOUX COUNTY, Iowa – A dashcam in a Sioux County Sheriff’s Office patrol car captured video of intense lightning strikes impacting western Iowa on Tuesday morning, with at least one bolt appearing to be an upward strike.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, a deputy was patrolling the county early Tuesday morning when strong to severe thunderstorms, including at least one tornado, were reported in the western part of the state.

Video showed at least one of the bolts was a rare upward strike, where the lightning begins close to the ground and travels toward the parent cloud.

"Upward discharges almost always occur from towers, tall buildings, or mountain tops,"  the National Weather Service said on its website. "In addition, they are thought to occur only when there is a rapid change in the charges aloft, most likely due to a very recent lightning strike. Upward-developing discharges are usually branched upward."


Upward lightning strikes are not a new phenomenon, but scientists said what triggers the bolts is not well understood.

More upward strikes have been detected with the growing popularity of wind turbines, to which strikes can be destructive.

"Upward lightning (UL) has become a major threat to the growing number of wind turbines producing renewable electricity," authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres said. "It can be much more destructive than downward lightning due to the large charge transfer involved in the discharge process."

June is typically the peak month for lightning strikes in the U.S., but very few are determined to be upward strikes.


"It reminds us how dangerous lightning can be," the Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post. "Lightning is one of the most underrated weather hazards. Please stay safe, be aware, and as thunderstorm season is upon us, be informed of these dangers and be prepared to take shelter."

According to the NWS, a bolt can travel 10-12 miles outside a thunderstorm and can contain 300 million volts of electricity.

The odds of being struck are estimated to be 1 in 1,222,000, which can lead to cardiac arrest or even death. About two dozen people in the U.S. are killed by lightning each year.

In 2023, more than 240 million lightning bolts were detected in the skies over North America, with the Miami–Fort Lauderdale region being crowned the nation’s capital for strikes.