Summer storms bring lightning warning
By TIFFANY REPECKI
With the rain clouds starting to roll in on a daily basis, weather experts
are reminding people that where there is thunder, there is lightning.
“In our area of Southwest Florida, we are essentially the lightning capital
of the United States,” Logan Johnson, a meteorologist with the National
Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office, said.
Florida has an average of 1.4 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per
year, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. In 2009, 34
people died from lightning in the United States, with five from Florida.
Though drought conditions have been reported in recent weeks, Johnson noted
that the typical wet season pattern has been picking up, with higher
humidity levels and daily showers recorded.
“Within the last week or two we’ve seen quite a bit more activity,
especially with the tropical moisture in place,” he said.
But no change is expected as the season’s first tropical storm fades.
“We do see thunderstorms pretty much every day through our wet season,”
Johnson said. “We’re definitely into the summertime pattern at this point.”
The National Weather Service recently recognized Lightning Safety Week, which ran June 19 to 25, with the motto, “When Thunder Roars, Go indoors!” On average, lightning kills about 55 people each year in the United States.
As of Thursday, six people had been killed by lightning so far this year.
Five were killed this month and one person was killed in May. None of the fatalities occurred in Florida and all of the victims were men, ages 13-54.
In Florida, 70 people were struck and killed from 2000 to 2009.
“The main danger is for people who are outside,” Johnson said, adding that a person can be struck by lightning or a nearby object like a tree can be hit.
“The vast majority of people who are injured or killed are outside,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service, hundreds of people are permanently injured each year. People struck by lightning can suffer from memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness,
stiffness in joints, fatigue, muscle spasms, depression and more.
“If you are able to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning from that storm,” Johnson said, adding that lightning can strike objects five to 10 miles away.
“As the saying goes, ‘When thunder roars, go indoors,'” he said.
Head inside a residence, building or shelter, specifically seek out a covered building. For those caught outside without a covered shelter nearby, the next best alternative is to get inside of a vehicle. Try to avoid a soft-top vehicle.
“A car with a hard top is a safe place to be,” Johnson said.
For people swimming or those at the pool or beach, exit the water.
“You want to get away from the water immediately when you begin to hear thunder,” he said.
Boaters stranded out on the open water when a storm rolls in can escape down into a cabin, if they have one. For those with a cabinless boat, experts recommend that they drop anchor and get as low in the vessel as possible.
Everyone should avoid metal objects, electronics and windows.
“You want to be away from things that can conduct a lightning bolt of electricity,” Johnson said, adding that running water is also a big no during a thunderstorm, so people should wait to take a shower or clean the dishes.
“The No. 1 thing is to always plan ahead,” he said.
Be aware that daily storms are common during this time of year and plan accordingly. Schedule outdoor activities earlier in the day before the showers hit, and postpone activities when there is a high chance of