Here’s what you should know to stay safe from lightning

The National Weather Service offers safety tips

Thunderstorms moved through Northeast Florida on Wednesday night. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, FLA – As summer starts and more people are spending time outdoors, it is essential that Floridians learn how to be protected from what is known as the “underrated killer.”

The National Weather Service started Lightning Safety Awareness Week in 2001, which runs from June 19-25, to call attention to the dangers of lightning in an effort to lower the deaths and injuries caused by lightning strikes.

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Since then, lightning fatalities in the U.S. dropped from about 55 per year to less than 30, according to the weather service’s website.

Florida ranked No. 1 in the Top Ten States by Total Lightning density and No. 2 in the Top Ten States by Total Lightning Count in 2021, according to the annual lightning report by Vaisala.

Data released in early 2022 by Vaisala show both Florida and Texas leading in the nation in lightning statistics. (Vaisala)

The state also had a total of 223 lightning events per square mile in 2021, according to Vaisala’s annual report.

Central Florida is also the most active lightning hotspot in all of North America when it comes to lightning per square mile, according to News 6 meteorologist Candace Campos.

Florida had 223 lightning events detected per square mile making it the state with the most lightning density in 2021. (Vaisala)

CDC figures show Florida is the “lightning capital” of the country, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries over the past 50 years.

Geneva, the Seminole County community led the charge in lightning strike density across Florida with 857 lightning events per square mile, Vaisala statistics show.

The weather service said that over the last 30 years, the U.S. averaged 51 lightning fatalities per year and only about 10% of people struck by lightning are actually killed, while the other 90% must cope with varying degree of discomfort and disability sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Lightning is an unpredictable characteristic in a thunderstorm, so there is no guarantee of absolute protection from it, but following safety guidelines can reduce the risk of injury or death, according to officials.

Of the 11 deaths reported due to lightning, 4 of those happened in Florida. (National Lightning Safety Council)

Here are some of the tips offered by the weather service:

  • When thunder roars, go indoors. If you hear lightning, that means you are within striking distance. You must seek shelter and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder, even if the rain stops.
  • Find shelter that has electrical wiring and plumbing during a thunderstorm. The safest location is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring like shopping centers, schools and office buildings.
  • Don’t use plugged in cell phones. This means that you should not be using a cell phone while it is being charged.
  • Stay away from windows and doors. Do not sit on an open porch to watch the thunderstorm; it is best to stay in an interior closed room.
  • Refrain from touching concrete surfaces. Lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring, such as the basement or garage.
  • If inside a vehicle, roll the windows up and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle, such as devices plugged in for charging, metal surfaces and the ignition.
  • Avoid plumbing. Metal plumbing and the water inside are very good conductors of electricity. Therefore, do not wash your hands or dishes, take a shower or do laundry during a thunderstorm.
  • If you or someone else gets struck by lightning, you can begin first aid immediately. People who get struck do not carry an electric charge. Call for medical help right away.

For more information about lightning safety, visit the National Weather Service website.

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Maria joined in June 2022.