On Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m., lifeguards along Clearwater Beach blew their whistles, warning beach goers that a storm was quickly approaching.
The lifeguards then closed the water and left the beach.
Twelve minutes later, lightning struck a man, leaving him and seven others nearby injured.
Five people were taken to local hospitals to treat their injuries.
As the summer storm season continues to brew, it’s important people take precautions against lightning strikes.
Florida Public Radio Emergency Network Meteorologist Cyndee O’Quinn said when a storm is approaching, people should avoid popular Florida hangouts like the beach, lakes, swimming pools, and golf courses.
“If you’re at the beach, you’re the tallest object. So as the charge is building up inside the cloud, it’s going to find the tallest object,” O’Quinn said. “You don’t want to be in the water, the water is a conductor of electricity. So even if a lightning strike does not strike you directly, that charge can travel through the water.”
“Another place that’s really popular in Florida you don’t want to be at is the golf course. Again, it’s a wide open area, and you’re holding a metal club.”
Lightning can strike even if a storm is still ten miles away, O’Quinn said.
That’s why she said it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and listen to local weather apps.
“If you're at the beach and you see the lifeguards leaving and the weather's looking ominous, that's a key that you need to get off the beaches,” O’Quinn said. “And if you have a radar app and you can see a storm is approaching, you need to be inside in a safe place well before that storm gets within ten miles of where you're at.”
Download the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network app here.
Despite the earth shattering sounds their impact makes, lightning strikes are only 2-3 inches wide, about the size of a human thumb.
O'Quinn said the reason they're so powerful is that they are two to three miles long from the sky to the ground, so the electricity has time to build up before reaching its destination.
Florida as a whole is known for its high number of lightning strikes. But the Tampa Bay area in particular is part of a “lightning alley” that stretches from Tampa to Titusville.
O’Quinn said seven people in Florida were killed by lightning strikes in 2018.
According to the National Weather Service, lightning kills an average of 47 people each year in the United States, and harms hundreds of others.
The City of Clearwater released the following tips for staying safe while enjoying one of Florida’s beaches:
- Anytime lifeguards clear the water and raise double red flags, beachgoers should leave the beach. It is also important to be familiar with the beach warning flag system.
- Seek shelter until the storms pass the beach and the beaches are deemed safe by lifeguards.
- Do not enter the water or return to the beach until all double red flags are not present. Pay attention to local weather forecasts and when thunder roars, go indoors.