TAMPA - A construction worker is dead after being struck by lightning in southwest Florida. Collier County deputies said 35-year-old Robert Wiley died Wednesday while on a jobsite in Golden Gate Estates. Wiley and his crew had already stopped working because of bad weather, and were packing up when the bolt hit.
Wiley is the third person struck and killed by lightning in Florida so far this year. The flash of lightning and crack of thunder are common sights and sounds during summer afternoons in the Sunshine State. So common, in fact, Florida leads the nation not only in the number of lightning strikes per year, but unfortunately in the number of lightning deaths as well.
Now a new study by NOAA's National Weather Service finds that fishing - one of the most popular outdoor activities in Florida - puts you most at risk for a lightning strike during a thunderstorm.
John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the NWS, conducted the study by examining demographic information for 238 deaths attributed to lightning over the last seven years. He discovered that 152 lightning deaths since 2006 - 64 percent - occurred while people were participating in leisure activities, with fishing topping the list.
The remaining 77 people were struck by lightning while participating in a number of other leisure activities like enjoying the beach, swimming, walking and running, riding recreational vehicles, and picnicking or relaxing in their yard. Most - 82 percent - were male.
"When people think of lightning deaths, they usually think of golf," Jensenius said. "While every outdoor activity is dangerous when a thunderstorm is in the area, outdoor activities other than golf lead to more lightning deaths. NOAA has made a concerted effort to raise lightning awareness in the golf community since we began the campaign in 2001, and we believe our outreach has made a huge difference since lightning-related deaths on golf courses have decreased by 75 percent."
Jensenius said the large number of fishing, camping and boating lightning deaths may occur because these activities require extra time to get to a safe place. "People often wait far too long to head to safety when a storm is approaching, and that puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation," he said.
Prior to NOAA's lightning safety campaign, lightning killed an average of 73 people each year in the United States. Since the National Weather Service launched the campaign, the average has dropped to 37.
The best way for people to protect themselves against lightning injury or death is to monitor the weather and postpone or cancel outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the forecast, according to the Weather Service. Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if people can hear thunder, they are in danger of being struck by lightning. The only safe places to be during a thunderstorm are in a building with four walls and a roof or in a car. A hut, cabana, tent, or other rain shelter will not protect a person from being struck by lightning.
More information on the study is available here .