CLEARWATER, Fla. – A beautiful beach day in Florida can quickly go south when storms strike out of nowhere, which is exactly what happened Wednesday in Clearwater.
The Clearwater Police Department posted a set of pictures to its Facebook page showing lightning striking again and again near the sand and water. In one shot, the strike was so close it could be seen reflected in a puddle on the sand near chairs where beachgoers would normally be lounging, WKMG in Orlando reported.
Another photo shows a slightly darker sky with a crystal clear strike off in the horizon. In one of the final images, the flash was so bright that the strike itself could hardly be seen.
The department said that while the photos were taken from the safety of a patrol vehicle, the officer did have to warn beachgoers that they needed to seek shelter for their own safety.
Commenters were quick to criticize those who didn’t take the risk seriously.
“It’s not like the lightning is different at the beach, the tourist excuse is lame, you can get struck by lightning in the mountains or your backyard in Pennsylvania,” one man wrote.
Several others thanked officers for teaching the public not to mess with Mother Nature.
“Thank you Clearwater PD for yet again putting your life at risk to save others…. Even those lacking common sense,” a woman commented.
John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Lightning Safety Council, told Live Science that a lightning storm can be especially dangerous at a beach.
“If you are on the beach, chances are you’re the tallest thing in the immediate area, which makes you more vulnerable to being struck directly by lightning,” Jensenius told the website. “One of the problems is that people don’t react quickly enough. They don’t like to be inconvenienced by thunderstorms, so people tend to wait outside too long before seeking safety.”
Figures collected by Jensius and the National Lightning Safety Council show that 25 people died as a result of being struck by lightning while at the beach between 2006 and 2020. The victims were walking, swimming, jogging, playing volleyball or even heading for cover.
Florida consistently ranks as the deadliest state for lightning strikes with 49 fatalities from 2011 to 2020.
“In terms of lightning, Florida has the most lightning per square mile of any state in the U.S. and also a sizable population,” Jensenius said in a 2018 news release. “In addition, Florida has many outdoor recreational activities that cause people to be vulnerable to a lightning strike. Finally, in Florida, lightning is a very common afternoon threat for those who work outside or are outside as part of their daily routine.”