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Lighning safety on Florida beaches

Updated: Thursday, July 24 2014, 09:08 AM CDT
Florida is commonly known as the lightning capital of the US and at least six people have been killed by lightning in Florida since May.

People walking on the beach are particularly vulnerable during a lightning storm.
Three people on Fort Myers Beach were struck at the same time yesterday and one of them died.

When lightning is in the area, Pensacola Beach lifeguards go into what they call lightning mode. They jump in the truck, turn on the lights and cruise up and down the beach warning people. But a lot of times people stay right where they are.

Alex Johnson/
Senior Lifeguard/Santa Rosa Island Authority:
"A lot of times people will take that risk and they'll stay out here."

Our state accounts for almost half of the lightning-caused deaths this year with the beach being one of the most dangerous places you can be when lightning strikes.

Alex Johnson:
"It's a wide open space, surrounded by water. There's nothing taller than you. It's almost like being in the desert."

And yet Johnson says beachgoers are much more afraid of sharks than they are of lightning.  We asked mom Katheryn Mueller what she would do if the lifeguards warned for sharks.

Katheryn Mueller:
"Probably run really, really fast with the kids out the water."
And lightning?
Katheryn Mueller:
"Um lightning? I don't know if it would actually strike the ground so I would probably, we have a little tent that I would probably put the kids in and when it was OK with the lifeguards, we'd head to the car and maybe wait it out."

Vacationer Michael Hartman felt the same way.
Michael Hartman/Visiting from Missouri:
"Um that's probably not as scary so you're probably gonna stay on the beach and wait for it to clear."

Take a look at this map which shows cloud to ground lightning incidents over a 15 year period. Northwest Florida is one of three areas in the country with the highest incidents. Just last month, a man picking blueberries in Milton was killed by lightning.

On a beautiful day like today at the beach, it's understandable that you wouldn't want to leave but keep in mind that it doesn't need to be gray and raining for there to be lightning in the area. 

Some Okaloosa County beaches installed a lightning prediction system in 2011.
When conditions are right, sirens go off and lifeguards clear the beach.Lighning safety on Florida beaches


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