Can lightning strike the lake when a thunderstorm moves out over Lake Michigan?

Dear Tom,
Can lightning strike the lake when a thunderstorm moves out over Lake Michigan?

Carlos Centuri,
Chicago

Dear Carlos,
Indeed it can, and it does. Lightning strikes to the water are random, except when boats and ships are present. Lightning usually will strike the highest object within its reach. In the absence of “high” objects like boats or ships, the lake surface is essentially flat. The placement of a lightning strike is therefore quite random. But on Lake Michigan, a vessel is a highly “visible” target. Experienced boaters realize the danger of being caught on Lake Michigan in a thunderstorm; they head for shore immediately when storms threaten. If caught on the lake, depending on the type of boat, some precautions can be taken — but there is absolutely no guarantee of safety, regardless of the type of craft. The best advice: don’t be on the lake when thunderstorms threaten.