Lightning deaths in 2011 lowest in history

Public education and awareness to thank

Florida is the "Lightning Capital of the U.S."
Florida is the "Lightning Capital of the U.S."

MIAMI – Monday marked the first official day of Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week. 

This is a week for Floridians to learn about the weather hazards that frequently impact our state and for families and businesses to learn how to prepare for these events.  Each day of the week will highlight a different weather hazard. 

Monday's focus is on Lightning. 

Florida experiences more lightning than any other state in the U.S. averaging 1.4 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each year making it the "Lightning Capital of the U.S.".  According to NASA the "Lightning Capital of the World" is the African country of Rwanda which has 2 ½ times the lightning strikes we have here in Florida. 

Why so many lightning strikes in Florida?  Our geography has a lot to do with it, especially during the summer.  The sunshine and ocean that help make Florida such a great place to live also make it a dangerous place to live during our rainy season with thunderstorms developing along the sea breeze almost every afternoon. 

Lightning is deadly and kills nearly 60 people every year and in Florida alone, we average 7 deaths per year.  On average lightning is responsible for more weather related deaths in Florida than all other weather hazards combined. 

One of the reasons it is so dangerous is that it can travel as far as 10 miles from a thunderstorm and can heat the air around it to temperatures near 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. 

Lightning is also unpredictable.  We can forecast the conditions that cause lightning, but no one can forecast the exact location or time of the next lightning strike.

The ongoing public education, like Florida's Severe Weather Awareness Week, about lightning seems to be working.  According to the National Weather Service, in 2011 fewer Americans were killed by lightning than any year on record despite being one of the most active years for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

In 2011 tornadoes killed more than 500 people while lightning claimed only 26 lives which is less than have the yearly average of 55.

If you want proof that the public is smarter about lightning just look at the numbers.  In the 1940s the population of the U.S. was half of what it is today but lightning killed more than 300 American's each year.  432 people were killed by lightning in 1942 alone.  In 2011 with twice as many people only 26 lightning deaths.

Lightning safety is rather simple.  Just look up and around you.  Darkening clouds are usually the first sign that lightning may strike nearby.  When you see lightning or hear thunder, head to the nearest safe building.  The inside of your vehicle can be used as a place of shelter, but only if there are no building nearby. 

Also, always remember the 30/30 rule.  Go inside if you hear thunder within 30 seconds of a lightning flash. Wait at least 30 minutes after you hear thunder before going back outside. 

Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 24 - 30, 2012 and more information about lightning hazards and what you can do to protect yourself and others can be found at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov and www.FloridaDisaster.org

Here are a few facts about lightning:

  • Average number of thunderstorms occurring worldwide at any given moment -2000
  • Average number of lightning strikes worldwide every second- 100
  • Average number of lightning strikes worldwide per day- 8.6 Million
  • Average number of lightning strikes in the USA per year- 20 Million
  • Volts in a lightning flash - between 100 Million and 1 Billion
  • Amps in a lighting flash - between 10,000 and 200,000
  • The average lightning flash would light a 100 watt light bulb for 3 months.