SR SSD 99-22
7-1-99

Technical Attachment

Florida Lightning Victims During 1997

Richard K. Rude and Charles H. Paxton
NWSO Tampa Bay Area
Ruskin, Florida

1. INTRODUCTION

The intent of this study is to report the number of lightning-related deaths and injuries in Florida during 1997, and to document what people were doing, where they were located, and when they were struck. Data used in the study were obtained from the monthly National Weather Service (NWS) official Storm Data publications. Details of 1997 lightning victims are provided in the Appendix. Paxton and Morales (1997) examined lightning deaths and injuries for 1996 and found the number of people struck in Florida during 1996 was nearly triple the 1959 to 1995 yearly average. During 1997, 63 Floridians were struck by lightning. Although fewer than in the prior year, this was 1.4 times Florida's annual average of 44 people struck by lightning. Two likely explanations exist for the above average numbers of lightning victims: reports of lightning deaths and injuries are disseminated better now, and Florida's population continues to swell with newly arrived citizens who have less lightning experience. With that in mind, the NWS and media should continue an active role in heightening lightning awareness.

2. RESULTS

A. Number of Victims

During 1997, eight of the 63 people struck by lightning in Florida were killed. This is below the yearly average of 10 deaths. The number (55) of remaining injured survivors was much higher than the state's average of 34 injuries over the past 37 years. About 93 deaths and 300 injuries occur each year nationally, therefore, typically more than 10% of the national lightning fatalities and injuries occur in the state of Florida.

B. Demographics

Most lightning flash victims during 1997 were male, similar to the findings of many studies in the past. Holle et al. (1993), showed that 87% of the lightning casualties over central Florida were male. The authors found that males were more likely to die when struck than were females. During 1997, males were struck three times more often than females, and seven males and one female were struck and killed by lightning in Florida. Adults were struck more often than juveniles.

C. When victims were struck

As may be expected, most people were struck during the summer (Fig. 1). The two most active months were July and August with 57% of all lightning-related injures and deaths. The next two most unsafe months were June and September with 34% of the total. The remainder of the victims were struck in the late spring to early summer months and during the fall.

Figure 1. Number of injuries and deaths by month.

All victims were struck between 9 AM and 930 PM, with the average time being shortly after 3 PM. This coincides with when thunderstorms are most active in Florida. The single day in 1997 with the greatest number of injuries was Saturday, July 12. Five lightning events occurred with a total of 4 injuries and two fatalities. Two lightning events injured five people on Friday September 26. Other days with multiple injuries also tended to be on or near weekends, presumably when people are more likely to be outdoors (Table 1). Interestingly, fewer people were struck on Sunday than any other day.

Table 1. Number of lightning strike events, number injured or killed
on particular days of the week.
Day of week Number of
lightning strike
events
Number
injured or
killed
Monday 5 7
Tuesday 6 9
Wednesday 6 6
Thursday 10 11
Friday 8 11
Saturday 11 15
Sunday 3 4

D. Lightning Victim Locations

Holle et al. (1992) determined that proximity to trees, water and transport vehicles were the most dangerous places to be. During 1997 most people were outside when struck, but several flashes hit people who were indoors. One man was struck as he was leaning against a sink when an outside flash traveled through the water pipes. Most people were engaged in leisure activities, but working outside can also be hazardous. In 1997, most people were under or near trees when struck. Being in a parked automobile is relatively safe when lightning flashes, but standing next to an automobile is not safe. Open areas of airports and parking lots are not safe as the metal aircraft and the tall light poles attract lightning. Large open areas such as athletic fields and golf courses are also dangerous because people are often the highest objects when so exposed. Just being outside when lightning is occurring is dangerous, as 71% of injuries and at least 88% of fatalities during 1977 occurred outside. Those in particularly vulnerable occupations were roofers, farm workers, and home and lawn maintenance people, of whom 11 suffered injuries and two were killed in 1997.

Table 2. Number of people injured or killed in various locations.

Locations Injured Killed
Under tree/makeshift shelter 10 1
Open fields and sports fields 8 3
Near vehicle 5 2
Airports and parking lots 3 1
Percent of total 47% 88%

E. Counties with the Most Victims

Climatologically, the lightning maximum is over west-central Florida (Hodanish 1997), where populations are highest. During 1997, most people were struck in the highly populated coastal counties of central and south Florida; more people were struck in Hillsborough County than any other single county. The exceptions were seven interior counties in west-central Florida and one interior county in the Panhandle. These eight counties had 22% of the total injuries and deaths.

Table 3. Geographical regions and counties where lightning injuries and fatalities occurred.

Region Counties Injured Killed
West Central Hillsborough 9 1
Southeast Palm Beach 6 1
West Central Pinellas 6 0
West Central Manatee 3 1
Southeast Broward 2 1
Southeast Dade 2 1
Panhandle Gadsden 2 1
North Central Marion 2 1
West Central Pasco 3 0
North Central Sumter 2 1
Percent of total 67% 100%

3. SUMMARY AND SUGGESTIONS

During 1997 lightning injuries and deaths decreased from the previous year, but remained higher than the long-term average. Injuries were lowered by about half and deaths were one less. While this trend is heartening, lightning vigilance must continue. NWS meteorologists can keep lightning awareness high by providing as much detail as possible in Local Storm Reports. Information regarding what people were doing when struck and whether injuries occurred during the beginning, middle, or end of the thunderstorm activity is very helpful in studies such as this. Forecasters can also keep lightning awareness in the public's mind by including specific call-to-action statements concerning the dangers of lightning in Hazardous Weather Outlooks, warnings, statements and Short-Trm Forecasts. The terms "lightning storms" and "thunderstorms" may be interchangeably used in public products. The following NWS products should be used to inform the public of lightning threats.

A. Public Information Statements - should be issued prior to major holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, when larger numbers of people may tend to be outside and vulnerable to lightning.

B. Hazardous Weather Outlooks - should contain lightning-specific awareness statements to inform the public of lightning dangers.

C. Warnings and Statements - call to action statements specifically relating to lightning should be used in warnings and statements. When time permits, descriptive lightning frequency terms "occasional," "frequent," and "excessive" may be used in warnings and statements (see Tables 4, 5).

D. Short-Term Forecasts - when possible, NOWs should be used to alert county size areas of initial lightning threat. Descriptive lightning frequency terms "occasional," "frequent," and "excessive" should be used. Five or 15-min lightning displays from AWIPS and experience gained at NWSO Tampa Bay Area suggest the categories shown in Tables 4 and 5.

Table 4. Flash frequency categories for 15 minute periods.

Flash Categories 15 Minute Flash Frequencies
Occasional 1-50 flashes/15 minutes
Frequent 50-150 flashes/15 minutes
Excessive 150+ flashes/15 minutes

Table 5. Flash frequency categories for 5 minute periods.

Flash Categories 5 Minute Flash Frequencies
Occasional 1-15 flashes/5 minutes
Frequent 15-50 flashes/5 minutes
Excessive 50+ flashes/5 minutes

4. REFERENCES

Hodanish, S., D. Sharp, W. Collins, and C. Paxton, 1997: A 10-yr Monthly Lightning Climatology of Florida: 1986-95. WAF, 12, 439-448.

Holle, R. L., R. E Lopez, R. Ortiz, C.H. Paxton, D. M. Decker, and D. S. Smith: 1993, The local Meteorological Environment of Lightning Casualties in Central Florida. Preprints, Conference on Atmospheric Electricity, St. Louis, Amer. Meteor. Soc., Boston.

--, R. E Lopez, R. Ortiz, A. I. Watson, D. S. Smith, D. M. Decker, and C.H. Paxton: 1992, Cloud-To-Ground Lightning Related to Deaths, Injuries, and Property Damage in Central Florida. Proceedings, 1992 International Aerospace and Ground Conference on Lightning and Static Electricity. Atlantic City, N.J.

Paxton, C. H., and R. F. Morales, 1997: Florida Lightning Victims During 1996, Tech. Attach. SR/SSD 97-44.

5. APPENDIX

FLORIDA LIGHTNING VICTIMS 1997
LOCAL

WORK
DATE TIME INJ KILL SEX AGE COUNTY CITY DETAILS WHERE

PLAY

04/22 1130E 0 1 F 34 POLK LAKELAND ON FIELD BY STEEL FENCE OUT PLAY
05/15 1615C 1 0 M A OKALOOSA MARY ESTER NEAR DEPARTMENT STORE OUT PLAY
GARDEN CENTER
05/26 1730E 1 0 M 48 PALM BEACH ROYAL PALM NO DETAILS
BEACH
06/12 1400E 1 0 M A OSCEOLA KISSIMMEE DEPUTY ON SIDEWALK OUT WORK
06/14 1015E 0 1 M 60 MARION ORANGE LAKE
06/22 1615E 1 0 M A HILLSBOROUGH TAMPA INJURED FROM NEARBY OUT
STRIKE
06/23 1635E 1 0 M A MANATEE BRADENTON LIGHTNING STRUCK TREE THEN CAME THROUGH ROOF IN PLAY
06/25 1700E 1 0 F A HERNANDO SPRING HILL INJURY FROM SPARK WHEN LIGHTNING CAUSED SURGE IN IN PLAY
WIRING.
06/28 1330E 1 0 M 33 PINELLAS LARGO INJURED FROM STRIKE TO OUT WORK
TREE 10 FEET AWAY
06/28 1405E 1 0 M 20 PINELLAS LARGO BETWEEN 2 MOBILE HOMES OUT WORK
WHEN LIGHTNING HIT NEARBY
06/29 1405E 2 1 M A GADSDEN HAVANA FARM WORKERS WERE OUT WORK
SEEKING SHELTER IN TRUCK
07/05 1315E 2 0 F,M 17,14 COLLIER NAPLES BOTH WERE PARASAILING OUT PLAY
WHEN CABLE STRUCK
07/09 1314E 1 0 F A BREVARD MICCO RUNNING FROM CAR TO HOME OUT PLAY
WHILE UNDER UMBRELLA
07/10 1145E 1 0 M 39 BROWARD DAVIE STRIKE TO A CRANE THE OUT WORK
VICTIM WAS WORKING ON
07/10 1230E 3 0 M 21,35 PALM BEACH TEQUESTA WORKING ON ROOF WHEN OUT WORK
54 NEARBY TRESS STRUCK
07/10 1230E 1 0 M 34 PALM BEACH PALM SPGS DOING LAWN MAINTENANCE OUT WORK
07/11 1700E 1 0 M 70 MARTIN SALERNO NO DETAILS
07/12 1333E 1 0 M A MONROE CUDJOE KEY SEVERE BURNS OUT
07/12 1435E 1 0 M 27 PINELLAS ST BURNED BY LIGHTNING WHILE OUT WORK
PETERSBURG WORKING ON TRUCK
07/12 1445E 1 0 M A PALM BEACH BOCA RATON STRUCK IN HAND OUT WORK
07/12 1615E 0 1 M 34 PALM BEACH WEST PALM STRUCK JUST AFTER GETTING OUT WORK
BEACH OUT OF CAR AT HOME
07/12 1640E 1 1 M A,47 HILLSBOROUGH TAMPA BOLT HIT GOLF CLUB OF FATALITY, OUT PLAY
INJURED VICTIM 10 FEET AWAY
07/15 1300E 1 0 M A DADE MIAMI LAKE STRUCK WHILE ON ROOF OUT WORK
07/15 1800E 1 0 M 7 MANATEE BRADENTON VICTIM CLIMBING TREE THAT WAS STRUCK OUT PLAY
07/20 1144E 1 0 M 32 PINELLAS CLEARWATER VICTIM LEANING ON SINK WHEN IN WORK
OUTSIDE STRIKE TRAVELED
INSIDE THROUGH WATER PIPE.
07/22 1330E 1 0 M 52 LEE BONITA SPGS NEAR DUMPSTER WHEN IT OUT WORK
WAS STRUCK

07/24 1600E 1 0 M 53 CHARLOTTE PUNTA GORDA INJURED WHEN LIGHTNING OUT PLAY
HIT NEARBY POWER POLE
07/24 1800E 1 0 M 44 HILLSBOROUGH GIBSONTON FISHING ON U.S. 41 BRIDGE OUT PLAY
08/01 1200E 0 1 M 40 DADE MIAMI LAKE ROOFER HAVING LUNCH UNDER OUT WORK
TREE NEAR JOB SITE
08/01 1530E 1 0 M A ST. LUCIE FT PIERCE STRUCK IN OPEN AREA OUT PLAY
AT AIRPORT
08/07 1555E 0 1 M 38 BROWARD FT LAUDERDALE WAITING AT BUS STOP OUT WORK
08/11 1100E 1 0 M 11 DADE HOMESTEAD NO DETAILS PLAY
08/11 1730E 3 0 F A PASCO NEW PORT UNDER TREE WHEN INJURED OUT PLAY
2 J RICHEY
08/11 1830E 1 0 M A HILLSBOROUGH PLANT CITY WORKING ON BARBED WIRE OUT WORK
FENCE THAT WAS STRUCK
08/13 1540E 1 0 F 41 SEMINOLE SANFORD STRUCK WHILE BY WINDOW IN WORK
08/13 1700E 1 0 M 13 ORANGE ORLANDO STRUCK ON SKATEBOARD OUT PLAY
08/15 1525E 1 0 M 33 LAKE GROVELAND STRUCK WHILE GOLFING OUT PLAY
08/16 1730E 1 0 M 14 LEE NORTH FORT INJURED FROM STRIKE TO NEARBY OUT PLAY
MYERS TREE
08/16 2000E 1 0 F A BREVARD GRANT INJURED WHEN NEARBY TREE OUT PLAY
WAS HIT
08/20 1520E 1 0 M A VOLUSIA EDGEWATER PLUMBER WORKING UNDER MOBILE OUT WORK
HOME THAT WAS STRUCK
08/23 0900E 1 0 M A MARTIN STUART STRUCK WHILE IN BOAT OUT PLAY
09/02 1300E 2 0 M 8,12 MARION OCALA NO DETAILS PLAY
09/02 1607E 2 1 M 9,11 SUMTER WILDWOOD STRUCK WHILE STANDING ON OUT PLAY
15 FOOTBALL FIELD
09/11 1500E 1 0 M A BROWARD PEMBROKE STRUCK WHEN WORKING ON OUT WORK
PINES AIR CONDITIONER
09/17 2138E 1 0 M 40 PINELLAS ST PETERSBURG STRUCK IN TRANSIT AUTHORITY PARKING LOT OUT PLAY
09/26 1550E 3 0 1A, HILLSBOROUGH BRANDON INJURIES CAUSED BY STRIKE OUT WORK
2J TO SCHOOL FLAG POLE WHICH
WHICH EXPLODED AT BASE
09/26 1615E 2 0 A HILLSBOROUGH PLANT CITY TEACHERS INJURED BY NEARBY STRIKE WALKING OUTSIDE OUT WORK
10/31 1215E 1 0 F A MANATEE BRADENTON STRUCK IN PARKING LOT OUT
10/31 1706E 1 0 F A PINELLAS LARGO MINOR INJURIES FROM STRIKE OUT