News Columns & Blogs

Floridians, be respectful of lightning

We’ve all heard Florida called the lightning capital of the United States, and that’s no urban legend.

It really is.

Seventy people died in Florida from lightning strikes from 1999 to 2008, according to the National Weather Service.

The runners-up were Colorado with 28 and Texas with 27.

From 1959 to 2008, lightning claimed 466 lives in Florida, about double the number of casualties in the next most deadly state.

Last week, four Manatee County residents were injured by lightning in two days.

Anyone who heard that news had to think it was pretty remarkable. And it was. But it does happen. Maybe the most remarkable thing was that the three folks in Oneco and the woman in Myakka all lived to tell about their experiences.

In looking through Herald archives, we reported in May 1999 that six migrant farmworkers were injured off Verna Bethany Road, when a heavy rainstorm blew in. The workers slid under a vehicle to escape the rain, which a lightning bolt promptly struck. All six went to the hospital. Fortunately, they all survived.

It’s no coincidence that farmworkers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the country, and the threat of lightning is part of the hazard.

Here in Florida, they are out in open fields and are often the tallest object standing when a storm unleashes its fury.

The Myakka woman injured Monday was struck at Falkner Farms.

Manatee County’s most recent lightning fatality occurred on July 29, 2000. A young man who was boating on the Braden River died after being struck by lightning.

In August, 1995, a farm worker was killed near Sugar Bowl Road by lightning after storm clouds rolled quickly into the area, according to Herald archives. Three men were preparing to plant tomatoes when a lightning bolt hit all three. Two were stunned by the fire from the sky, but the other was dead when emergency crews arrived.

Other farmworkers in the area reported a close encounter with lightning as well.

Ten farmworkers rushed into a van to get out of the storm. A lightning strike hit the van, and destroyed the antenna.

“It burned the antenna right off, it was just black on top,” a witness told the Herald.

Anyone who sees a storm brewing, sees lightning, or hears thunder, needs to get under shelter as soon as possible, as in a building.

Don’t take shelter under a tree, because that is a deadly place to be when lightning is in the area.

For your consideration, a few more lightning stats: In 2008, 100 percent of those killed around the country were outside. Thirty-two percent were under a tree. Twenty nine percent were on or near the water.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.