Lightning is one of the most underrated severe weather hazards impacting people and property; it requires recognition and preparation.
The last week of June is Lightning Safety Awareness Week reminding the nation about lightning safety. Here in The Villages the lightning season began ramping up in April. We have many new residents who may not be aware of the lightning risk living here where it is common to experience over 100 days a year with lightning – particularly in the summer months.
Earlier this year you may have read that Oklahoma edged out Florida as the Lightning Capital of the Nation according to Vaisala the firm that operates the National Lightning Detection Network. Their data shows based on a five average Oklahoma had 83.4 strikes per square kilometer to Florida’s 82.8 strikes per square kilometer. However, Florida typically leads the nation in lightning deaths and injuries. Further, in 2020 on a state-wide basis Florida led all states with 75 strikes per square kilometer. The county data is more impressive. For example, Sumter County was 14th in the nation and sixth in the state with 131.9 strikes per square kilometer. And Lake County was seventh in the nation and fourth in the state with 145.8 strikes per square kilometer. This shows that Florida is still the Lightning Capital of the Nation and Central Florida experiences a high incident of lightning strikes.
This is the first in a series of three articles on lightning safety to help you manage your lightning risk.
Personal Lightning Safety Outdoors
Lightning can cause life changing injury or death in several ways in addition to a direct strike. Others include Contact (when touching a conductor such as a metal fence), Side Flash (when lightning bounces off an object such as a tree), Ground Current (when lightning strikes near a victim and the current passes via the ground), Streamer (when the air is charged with electricity during lightning storm’s burst of energy), and Blast (when the victim is thrown or falls and may also experience ruptured eardrums).
There was a serious injury in 2017 at The Villages Polo Club at the conclusion of a youth showcase soccer tournament. A 12-year-old boy was struck, and his life was saved by the tournament coordinator who immediately began CPR followed by EMS evacuation to the hospital. It had not rained although lightning was reported two miles to the north demonstrating the unpredictability of lightning. A few years earlier two workers were slightly injured during a concrete pour when the concrete mixing truck was struck by lightning. Florida typically leads the nation every year in lightning deaths and injuries.
The National Weather Services (NWS) awareness campaign is to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
- Listen to the local weather forecast (WVLG 640 AM or 102.7 FM, VNN Comcast Ch. 2)
- Plan ahead to know where to go for shelter (substantial building)
- Take action early.
- When Thunder Roars GO Indoors (mantra of NWS)
- Wait 30 minutes after the last sighting of lightning or hearing the rumble of thunder before resuming outdoor activities.
Personal Lightning Safety Indoors
While no place is entirely safe from lightning you should seek shelter in a substantial building which can be your own home. There have been cases here in The Villages of homeowners being injured when a home took a direct lightning strike while the homeowner was taking a shower. A husband and wife experienced a jolt when there was a nearby indirect lightning strike when he was on the computer, and she was on the telephone. Fortunately, there was no injury in this near miss event. Therefore, it is important to avoid the following during a thunderstorm:
- Plumbing fixtures (i.e., taking a shower or a bath)
- Electrical equipment
- Corded telephones (only for emergencies)
The next article will discuss INDIRECT lightning strikes that can damage your appliances and electrical equipment followed by DIRECT lightning strikes to the home and lightning protection systems also known as lightning rods.
Villager Len Hathaway is a recognized expert when it comes to lightning.