Powerball or a lightning strike: Which has better odds?
Powerball and Mega Millions lottery tickets are shown at a retailer, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Lottery players will have a shot Friday night at the fifth-largest jackpot in U.S. history after no tickets matched all the numbers in the latest Mega Millions drawing. The big prize for Powerball, the other national lottery game, is $550 million for Wednesday night's drawing. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
“I don’t understand why people who play the lottery aren’t more afraid of lightning,” joked comedian Kyle Kinane in his special Trampoline In A Ditch. “If you believe in those odds, shouldn’t you be like, ‘I got 20 bucks on the pick five. Wait, is that a storm?!'" Kinane went on, capping the bit with a two-word expletive meant to suggest sudden fear.
As the Mega Millions jackpot rose to $750 million this week, many Americans may be pondering the odds at this point. Even beneath that massive jackpot, which is currently the second-largest of all-time, lottery players can also pin their hopes on the at least $640 million Powerball prize that will be next drawn on Saturday night, after no player won on Wednesday.
After all, someone has to win the money, right?
Well, not so fast.
Hardik Kalra, of Des Moines, Iowa, poses for a photo with his Mega Millions and Powerball lottery tickets, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
After no player overcame the 302,575,350-to-1 odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot on Tuesday night, the next drawing for the massive prize will be held on Saturday night.
But how crazy are those odds, really?
Well, to amend Kinane’s joke from earlier, if you like your good fortune for winning the lottery, then your fear of equally unlikely misfortune by way of "freak" accidents, such as getting struck by lightning or being crushed by a meteorite or getting attacked by a shark, should be downright terrifying.
"Like I said in the bit, you don't get to believe in only good luck. You either believe in luck (both good AND bad), or you don't," Kinane said to AccuWeather in an email. "So if you're crossing your fingers for the Powerball, might want to ask Zeus to go easy on your neighborhood while you're at it."
In fact, compared to the Mega Millions’ 302,575,350-to-1 winning odds, getting struck by lightning would seem like a near certainty.
According to the National Weather Service, a person has a 1-in-15,300 chance of getting struck by lightning in their lifetime, defined as an 80-year span. That makes your odds of getting struck by lightning nearly 20,000 times higher than hitting the winning numbers for this week's jackpot.
In this Aug. 16, 2020, file photo, lightning forks over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a storm passes over Oakland, Calif. Numerous lightning strikes sparked brush fires throughout the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
Data from the National Lightning Safety Council shows that an estimated 234 people are injured by lightning strikes each year. In 2020, 17 fatalities in the United States were attributed to lightning strikes, down from the average number of 26 deaths per year (based on estimations from 2010-2019 figures).
By those odds, you are equally likely to be struck by lightning on 250 different occasions as you are to nailing the right lottery numbers, Newsweek reported.
Here are the odds for some other incredibly improbable events that you are still more likely to experience before winning the lottery:
Yellowstone erupting: 1 in 730,000 in any given year, according to the USGS.
Being eaten by a shark: 1 in 3.7 million, according to CNBC. Whale Bone Mag adds that those numbers change to 1 in 7 million for Americans living in a landlocked state.
Being killed by a meteorite: 1 in 700,000, according to astronomer Alan Harris in Discover Magazine. Those odds are considerably lower for getting struck directly by a meteor, however, dropping to 1-in-1.9 million should a meteor hit Earth.
Death by vending machine: 1 in 112 million, according to "The Book of Odds" by Amram Shapiro. According to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, an average of four Americans died per year, between 2002 and 2015, due to vending machine mishaps.
Correction: Article previously said the next Powerball would be on Friday but has been corrected to Saturday.
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