Florida lightning deaths highest in nation, know myth from fact

Florida often experiences the most lighting-related deaths than any other state, including in 2016 when nine people were killed.

There are persistent myths about lightning that the National Weather Service has tried to dispel. Knowing the facts can save your life.

  • Lightning is not attracted to metal. Metal is a good conductor of electricity, which is why lightning rods are used on top of tall buildings, but it is the height of the building, not the metal that meteorologists believe draws the lightning. That is why it’s dangerous to seek shelter under a tree during a lightning storm. Lighting will seek out the tallest object to strike.

“Lightning is not attracted to anything,” said John Jensenius, an expert with the National Weather Service. “I’ve seen various articles about batteries and screwdrivers, none of which had any effect.”

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Lightning strikes south of Belvedere Road near I-95 in West Palm Beach on July 9, 2009. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Lightning strikes south of Belvedere Road near I-95 in West Palm Beach on July 9, 2009. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

  • A car with a metal roof is good shelter from lightning, but not because of the rubber tires. If lightning strikes the car, it will be conducted by the metal around and into the ground. A convertible does not offer the same protection.
  • Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, meaning sunny skies when a storm is imminent are still dangerous.
  •  Lightning tends to strike the tallest object in an area, so trees are not safe places to seek shelter.

Related: Watch amazing slow motion video of lightning striking Florida beach 

  • A person injured by lightning is not electrified. Victims typically die of cardiac arrest. People who can administer CPR will not be electrocuted if they do so.
  • Lightning can strike the same place twice.
  • People playing golf do not account for the majority of lightning deaths. Fishermen account for more than three times as many lightning deaths as golfers. Camping and boating each account for almost twice as many deaths.

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“People get the idea that jewelry, headphones, golf clubs attracts lightning but that’s not the case at all,” said Matt Bragaw, a meteorologist and lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne. “Metal conducts electricity very efficiently, but it does not draw electricity to it like a magnet.”

If anything, Bragaw said, it’s the act of swinging a club that might draw lightning’s attention because it makes the gofer the tallest object in what is usually the mostly wide open terrain of a tee or fairway.

“Anytime you increase your height, you increase your chances of getting hit,” Bragaw said.

Palm Beach Post Digital Senior Editor John Bisognano drives down the middle of Jupiter¹s Abacoa Golf Club No. 16 fairway. (Note the ball just above John¹s head). Photo courtesy Jay Rose

Palm Beach Post Digital Senior Editor John Bisognano drives down the middle of Jupiter¹s Abacoa Golf Club No. 16 fairway. (Note the ball just above John¹s head). Photo courtesy Jay Rose

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