TAMPA, Fla. — The National Weather Service says Florida is the lightning capital of the country, with more people dying from strikes in the state each year than any other state.
"It's simple really. We have more lightning, and we are fourth in population," NWS says.
In 2019, 20 people died from lightning strikes. In 2020, 17 people were killed.
NWS says teenage boys are most vulnerable, followed by people in their 30s and then people in their 20s.
Statistics show that from 2006 to 2019, 418 people were killed by lightning strikes in the country.
During that period there were 40 fishing deaths, 25 beach deaths, 20 camping deaths and 18 boating deaths, according to NWS. More than 70% of the deaths happened during June, July and August.
NWS says Florida's unique location, surrounded by warm water, provides everything needed for thunderstorms to form. The weather service also says July is the worst month for lightning strikes because summer brings more storms and more activities are taking place.
Worldwide, however, several other areas see more lightning than Florida.
Lightning safety tips
The National Weather Service offers these tips for staying safe from lightning.
- When you hear thunder, go inside and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last clap
- When lightning is in your area go inside a completely closed building — carports, open garages, covered patios and pavilions are not adequate shelter
- Check the forecast before going outside
- Have someone watch the skies during your outdoor work or activity
- Do not take shelter under a tree, especially if it's tall and isolated
- Get out of the water — including pools, lakes, rivers, oceans, water rides and even puddles of water
- Get off the beach!
- Put down metal objects, like fishing poles. Statistics from AccuWeather show that a majority of lightning deaths between 2006 and 2009 occurred while fishing.
- Move away from metal objects
If you're indoors, NWS recommends avoiding contact with electrical equipment and cords, moving away from windows and avoiding contact with plumbing. Meaning, do not take a shower or bath, wash dishes or do laundry — wait until after the storm is over.
How to help a lightning strike victim
If you observe someone being struck by lightning, here is what NWS says you should do.
- Call 911 immediately
- Check if the victim is conscious — gently shake them or call their name. If you don't get a response, gently roll them onto their back and check to see if they are breathing
- If they are not breathing perform CPR until paramedics arrive, using the ABC's of CPR
|1. Airway: clear obstructed airways.|
|2. Breathing: perform mouth-to-mouth.|
|3. Circulation: start chest compressions.|
NWS tackles these myths related to lightning strikes.
- Myth: Cars are safe because the rubber tires insulate them from the ground.
- Truth: Rubber tires provide no protection from lightning. Cars are safe because of their metal shell and steel frame. Convertibles are not safe.
- Myth: Lightning-strike victims are electrified and should not be touched.
- Truth: Lightning-strike victims carry no residual electrical charge. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
- Myth: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
- Truth: Lightning often strikes outside of the rain area to as much as 10 miles (even greater distances in exceptional situations).
- Myth: Heat lightning occurs after very hot summer days and poses no hazard.
- Truth: Heat lightning is a term used to describe lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for the thunder to be heard. The lightning hazard increases as you move toward the storm and eventually the thunder will also be heard.
Types of strikes
According to NWS, there are five types of lightning strikes. Direct, side flash, ground current, conduction and streamers.
A direct strike is what is sounds like, when a person is directly struck. This usually happens when the victim is in an open area. They are not the most common type, but NWS says they are potentially the most deadly.
A side flash, also called a side splash, is when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and part of the current jumps from that object to the person. These tend to happen when the victim has taken shelter under a tree to avoid rain or hail, according to NWS.
A ground current is when lightning strikes a tree or other object and the energy travels outward in and along the ground surface. Anyone outside near the strike is a potential victim of ground current.
Conduction is when lightning travels long distances in wires and other metal surfaces. While NWS says metal does not attract lightning, it creates a path for it to follow. Conduction is the cause of most indoor casualties from lightning, according to NWS.
Streamers are not common, but develop as the downward-moving leading strike approaches the ground.
The odds of being struck
In the last 10 years, NWS says the U.S. has averaged 27 lightning fatalities each year.
Only about 10% of people struck by lightning are killed, NWS says. The remaining 90% can suffer various degrees of disability.
The odds of being struck in a given year is 1 out of 1,222,000, according to NWS.
The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 out of 15,300.