SR SSD 99-22
Florida Lightning Victims During 1997
Richard K. Rude and Charles H. Paxton
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.
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.
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.
|Day of week||Number of
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.
|Under tree/makeshift shelter||10||1|
|Open fields and sports fields||8||3|
|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.
|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|
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.
|FLORIDA LIGHTNING VICTIMS 1997|
|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|
|05/26||1730E||1||0||M||48||PALM BEACH||ROYAL PALM||NO DETAILS|
|06/12||1400E||1||0||M||A||OSCEOLA||KISSIMMEE||DEPUTY ON SIDEWALK||OUT||WORK|
|06/22||1615E||1||0||M||A||HILLSBOROUGH||TAMPA||INJURED FROM NEARBY||OUT|
|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|
|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|
|07/12||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|
|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|
|08/07||1555E||0||1||M||38||BROWARD||FT LAUDERDALE||WAITING AT BUS STOP||OUT||WORK|
|08/11||1730E||3||0||F||A||PASCO||NEW PORT||UNDER TREE WHEN INJURED||OUT||PLAY|
|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|
|08/16||2000E||1||0||F||A||BREVARD||GRANT||INJURED WHEN NEARBY TREE||OUT||PLAY|
|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||1607E||2||1||M||9,11||SUMTER||WILDWOOD||STRUCK WHILE STANDING ON||OUT||PLAY|
|09/11||1500E||1||0||M||A||BROWARD||PEMBROKE||STRUCK WHEN WORKING ON||OUT||WORK|
|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|