Created within every thunderstorm, is lightning.  Charges separate as ice and water collide, and suddenly the separation is able to overcome the resistance of air, in a brilliant and intense flash.  While lightning can be a photographers dream to capture, its history as a hazard to the public is also prevalent.  States such as Florida are constantly on the lookout for lightning, as they have lead the US in lightning fatalities every year since 2012.  With the threat of lightning in mind, who is struck most often, and more importantly, why?

In short, historically you are most likely to be struck if you are…..

  • Male
  • 20-30 Years Old
  • In Florida
  • On a Saturday
  • In July
  • While Fishing

There is a lot to unpack, so let’s break it down.  Males are overwhelmingly struck more often than females, regardless of all other variables such as age or activity-type.  Does this mean only men should run for cover when thunder begins to roar?

The answer is no.  Young men (20-30 Years Old) tend to be less willing to postpone or delay an outdoor activity due to lightning, creating many more cases of male victims simply not taking shelter soon enough.

“For many of the lightning victims, safe shelters were available; however, the victims simply did not act soon enough to get to safety before they were struck.” -John S. Jensenius, Jr (March 2017)

Over sixty percent of all fatalities occur during leisure activities, which make sense, as many occur outdoors.  When looking at the type of activity, the largest percentage (34%) is water related, including fishing, boating, and boating.  Most know that avoiding wide open spaces is the first step to avoid being struck, but beaches and open water offer little to no protection in these cases.

“The data also showed that leisure-related activities are the greatest source of lightning fatalities. In particular, the combination of fishing and boating activities account for 15% of all lightning deaths. These activities are especially dangerous because fishermen and boaters are likely out in the open and more vulnerable to a direct lightning strike; the background noise of a motor or water may limit their ability to hear thunder; and they may need extra time to get to a safe place.” -John S. Jensenius, Jr (March 2017)

So if you heading to beach our spending a day out on the water, how do you reduce your chances of being struck?  The best thing you can do is check your local forecast before leaving for the day, along with watching the skies or radar for storms moving your direction.  Small checks before or during your trip can make all the difference to avoiding lightning, and other types of hazardous weather, along with being able to enjoy the outdoors this summer!

Credit: A majority of the figures and graphics for this post came from a journal article published in 2017.  A link to that article can be found by clicking here.

 

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About Kevin Thiel

Kevin is a Meteorology Major and Mathematics Minor at Ohio University, with an interest for thunderstorm electrification and research. On campus, he serves as President of the AMS Student Chapter, along with Webmaster and Forecaster for the campus atmospheric lab. This past summer, Kevin interned at the National Weather Service office in Miami, Florida, using lightning and radar data to study severe thunderstorm potential. One day, Kevin hopes to enter into field of academia and research, or become a forecaster with the Storm Prediction Center.
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