Lightning at the Beach & Beyond – What You Need to Know

Photo credit: Susan Gunn Photography

Fun fact: Florida is known as the lightning capital of the country! The state has more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the U.S. While lightning is nature’s greatest show, we must exercise lightning safety at home as well as at the beach.

Here are some things to know about Mother Nature’s stupendous electric show:

There are five types of lightning strikes.

Photo credit: Susan Gunn Photography

Direct Strike: the person is in an open area and becomes part of the lightning strike

Side Flash: a taller object is struck and lightning jumps to the victim within a few feet

Ground Current: the cause of most lightning deaths and injuries; a tall object is struck and energy travels outward, along the ground surface

Conduction: the cause of most indoor and some outdoor lightning casualties; lightning travels long distances through metal. Avoid pipes, outlets, cords, and windows

Streamers: the leader strike approaches the ground, meets one of many “streamers” that form from the ground up, and in making contact, creates a path for the very bright return stroke. A streamer strike can kill.

Why is Florida the Lightning Capital?

The state is hot and humid, surrounded by two warm bodies of water. Sea breeze brings air in, and it rises into thunderclouds.

Florida reigns with the highest negative cloud-to-ground flashes per square mile.

Seminole county had the most in 2018 at 17.3 strikes per third of a square mile.

Things you should do in the event of lightning in your immediate surroundings:

Stay Alert – On the beach, sounds of thunder can be muted by sounds of surf and play, so watch for developing storms. If time between the lightning flash and thunder rumble is less than 30 seconds, find shelter.

Take Cover – Get into a building of substance with a roof, walls, and indoor plumbing. A vehicle with metal sides, a metal roof, and rolled-up windows is safe. Remain in shelter for 30 minutes after the last thunder rumble. Avoid taking shelter under trees or partially covered areas. Leave higher elevations and any body of water.

Don’t Stall – Beachgoers are often too slow to leave the beach. Since people usually are taller than anything else on the beach, according to John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist, they get struck. National Lightning Safety Council’s report shows that many victims were on their way to safety, but they didn’t leave quickly enough.

No Shelter? – Separate from others if you’re outside, and if there is no shelter. It increases the chance to be struck, but it can prevent multiple casualties.

Fatalities – Water-related activities contributed the most to lightning fatalities of outdoor activities. Of these, relaxing at the beach is second for lightning deaths, surpassed only by fishing. In 2019, there have been 3 lightning-related deaths in Florida, one on Clearwater Beach, where one man was struck and killed by lightning, and 7 others were injured.

Medical Issues – Lightning strikes cause cardiac arrest. If victims don’t die immediately, they can be left with medical issues including muscle soreness, dizziness, forgetfulness, headaches, and chronic pain. Some delayed responses are personality change, depression, and self-isolation.

Deadliest Strike – The Ground Current strike is the cause of most lightning deaths and injuries among types of strikes. A tall object is struck and energy travels outward, along the ground surface.

Heat Lightning – In Florida, “heat lightning” is interesting to observe from the beach. Heat lightning isn’t caused by heat and humidity, a common misconception; it’s lightning from a far-off storm, so you can’t hear thunder. Lightning can be seen up to 100 miles away. So, if you’re outside of 15 miles and can’t hear thunder, heat lightning is safe to watch.

Help – If someone experiences cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1. Give first aid and CPR. Move the victim. Lightning can strike twice in the same place. For survivors: Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International (LSESSI) is a good resource.

Remember, the odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 out of 15,300. With these tips in mind, you’re good to enjoy the beach!

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J.S. GREEN loves being a Santa Rosa Beach local, living between the beach and the bay.  Her passions: family, friends, surfing, and boating. Her retirement dream: live life full-time by boat. Follow her on Instagram: @emeraldgreenwriter.