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Park attendees urged to heed lightning alerts

By Staff | Jun 22, 2017

Anyone who has lived in Florida for any length of time already knows or has heard the phrase, “Florida is the lightning capital of the world.”

That reputation is well deserved and has prompted cities and counties around the state to install lightning detection devices at outdoor gathering places like parks, beaches and athletic facilities to keep visitors and residents safer.

According to the insurance industry, Florida had the highest claims in the country in 2016 for lightning related incidents. According to the data, there were 10,385 claims resulting in $67.8 million in damages. Florida also had the most deaths, nine, due to lightning.

A consistent data history like that prompted Lee County to install detectors at parks and beaches in recent years. Lee County Public School District installed them at its schools.

Cape Coral is no different. City Council approved a $117,000 expenditure in 2015 to install detectors at 18 parks. The purchase and installation began in 2015 and went operational in 2016. The system is activated only during hours the parks normally operate.

“Most of the parks are covered, but right now we are looking at adding two more in next year’s budget,” said Art Avellino, athletic and special facilities superintendent for Cape’s Parks & Recreation Department. “We want to put one at Rotary Park and a second one at Coral Oaks because it is such a big area, probably on the far back side away from the clubhouse.”

Avellino said educating the public is the key to keeping people safe at places where there are no city staff or volunteers on duty, like Four Freedoms Park.

“That’s why we put posters up down there about what to do because the detector would go off and people didn’t know what it meant,” said Avellino. “Having detectors cuts out the guesswork of when lightning is close.”

Detectors sound an alert with one long, loud horn blast accompanied by strobe lights when lightning strikes within a 10-mile radius. Depending on how long the lightning storm lasts, detectors sound the “all clear” with three short horn blasts once no lightning is detected within the last 30 minutes. Regardless, the strobe lights flash continuously from the alert to the all clear signal.

During the summer months when lightning is most common, the city’s parks are teaming with activity as they host a variety of adult softball leagues, tournaments, youth clinics and football camps.

“One day this week the lightning detectors went off at least five times,” said Avellino. “They take the responsibility off the volunteers at the fields as to when to stop play and when to go back.”

Avellino said people can go to the city website and download the Weather Bug app to monitor the parks they will be visiting. The app shows a live status update when the detectors alert and clear.

When lightning is detected people are advised to seek shelter indoors; avoid using electronic devices; stay away from water sources; do not lean against concrete structures; stay inside a hard-top car or truck; or outdoors, crouch down at least 100 feet from the nearest tall object and cover your ears.

City parks with detection devices: Burton Memorial Park; Cape Coral Sports Complex; Four Freedoms Park; Jaycee Park; Joe Stonis Park; Northwest Softball Complex; Pelican Soccer/Baseball Complex; Strausser/BMX Park; Austen Youth Center; Caloosa Football; Coral Oaks Golf Course; Verdow Memorial Park; Jim Jeffers Park; Koza/Saladino Park; Storm Football Complex; Sun Splash Family Waterpark; and Yacht Club Community Park.