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Florida Leads in Lightning Deaths Again

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Mike Lewinski
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Reaching temperatures higher than the surface of the sun and carrying about one billion volts of electricity, lightning poses a serious threat to humans.

According to meteorologist Tony Hurt, eight people have died in the United States due to lightning strikes so far this year, including a 33-year-old Seffner man who was killed Sunday on a Siesta Key beach.  With half of them in Florida, experts warn residents and visitors alike to take special precaution during thunderstorms.

The climate is not the only reason the state has the most deaths. Florida’s large population and constant influx of tourists who may not be familiar with the danger increases the risk of lethal lightning strikes.

“More people plus more thunderstorms equals more hazard and unfortunately more fatalities,” Hurt said.

He explained that this is not the first year Florida has topped the charts of the most lightning-related deaths.

“If you look back historically, Florida is also number one, if you go back for a ten-year period, or a 30-year period, or even a 60-year period,” Hurt said.

Though most lightning strikes occur during the summer, the hazard exists year-round for residents in Florida, according to Hurt. He stressed that the key to staying safe is to not be outdoors when thunder and lightning are present.

“We have a saying with the National Weather Service: ‘When thunder roars, go indoors,’” Hurt said.  “Stop all of your outside activities, seek shelter and then wait at least 30 minutes until after you hear thunder for the last time to go back outside.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is pushing education efforts during National Lightning Safety Awareness Week (June 24-30). Visit their website to view comprehensive guides on lightning science and safety.

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Molly Urnek is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2018.