Lightning deaths mount, what one man was doing that may have killed him

Two more people were killed by lightning Wednesday, bringing this year’s total to 16.

An Arizona teenager was killed while hiking Humphreys Peak in the northern part of the state. A 23-year-old man died after being struck Tuesday while huddling under a tree on an Arvida, Colo. golf course.

Trees are not good places to seek shelter. Just watch this video to see why.

Wednesday’s deaths follow a brutal volley of lightning strikes swept through the South last week killing five people and sending a sobering reminder that summer thunderstorms can be deadly, especially in Florida.

On Tuesday, two teenagers on Sand Key in Clearwater were injured when a bolt hit nearby, leaving one face down in the sand with no pulse and the other with no memory of what happened.

Vacationing nurse Cassandra Thomas performed CPR on 15-year-old Cameron Poimboeuf until paramedics arrived, said Clearwater Police and Fire Department spokesman Rob Shaw.

Read: Top 5 myths of lightning strikes

“She saw what happened from her balcony and them laying on the sand,” Shaw said. “She had to run down 16 floors because the elevator wasn’t working at the time.”

On Wednesday, Poimboeuf was in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital, while the other boy was scheduled to be released from the hospital, Shaw said.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“Lightning is a huge concern this time of year,” said Charlie Paxton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “That first clap of thunder is the warning, but sometimes we have to foresee those skies darkening and the possibility of lightning and go inside before the first bolt.”

Lightning strikes as motorists travel southbound on I95 near the 45th Street exit in West Palm Beach, June 29, 2015. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)
Lightning strikes as motorists travel southbound on I95 near the 45th Street exit in West Palm Beach, June 29, 2015. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

The five people killed last week included two in Louisiana, and one each in Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. Their ages range from 19 to 70, and while two were taking shelter under a tree – an unsafe place to be during a storm – one was just walking to his car, while another had stopped to put on rain gear while riding his motorcycle.

In total, 16 people have now died nationwide from lightning strikes this year. The two most recent deaths occurred in Arizona and Colorado. In Arizona, a 17-year-old was killed while hiking Humphreys Peak in Coconino County. A 23-year-old was struck on Tuesday and later died from his injuries. He was huddling under a tree on a golf course in Arvada, Colo.

Four of the deaths were in Florida, including two Palm Beach County residents. Bechelet Joseph, of Boynton Beach, was killed in April. Lake Worth resident Farooq Mohammad died in March.

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M-F Lightning Deaths 2006-2016 (002)

“We appreciate anything you can do to make people more aware of lightning,” said John Jensenius, a lightning specialist with the National Weather Service after the fifth person was struck down Saturday in North Carolina.

Florida’s summertime thunderstorms can conjure hundreds of lightning flashes in their brief lives as sea breezes from both coasts stir up the atmosphere.

That’s what happened Tuesday. Paxton said a strong easterly sea breeze moved across the state on a collision with the west coast’s sea breeze. Florida is unique nationwide because the sea breeze invades the peninsula from both coasts.

“When the two collide, things intensify,” Paxton said.

Shaw said the boys injured Tuesday, who are both from North Carolina, were walking on the beach when it started raining at about 4:30 p.m.. They ran for cover, and then the lightning hit.

“It’s a danger those who live here know about and respect. You can practically set your watch by the afternoon storms,” Shaw said. “If you are from out of state, you may not be aware of what they can do.”

Florida ranks tops in the nation for the highest number of days per year with thunderstorms, ranging from 80 along the coast to 100 in a more central region west of Lake Okeechobee.

Last year, 27 people were killed by lightning nationwide. Florida had the highest tally with five deaths.

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1,700 lightning bolts hit Palm Beach County in two hours

Tuesday’s thunderstorms were electrifying, literally.

According to the National Weather Service in  Miami, 1,697 lightning bolts seared to Earth during a two-hour period beginning at 2 p.m.

There was a little bleed over in the numbers into northern Broward County, but NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Robert Molleda said the strikes were “pretty high.”

One person struck at Jonathan Dickinson State Park last week. 

It’s an amount he said is only seen a few times a year during the most active days.

Photo of lightning taken from Peanut Island, courtesy Aaron Lichtig
Photo of lightning taken from Peanut Island, courtesy Aaron Lichtig

Florida gets 90 percent of its strikes between June and September, so nearly 1,700 bolts is notable for a March storm.

During the entire storm event, Molleda said there were about 2,500 strikes in the Palm Beach County area.

Three Boca Raton firefighters struck by lightning Tuesday. 

“You have to remember that every single thunderstorm is a potential killer,” Matt Braga, a meteorologist and lightning safety specialist with the Melbourne NWS told The Post last year. “Although you hear a lot about hail and rain, lightning is the only thunderstorm threat that can reach outside the periphery of the storm.”

In 2014, Florida received 1.47 million lightning strikes, the most of any state except Texas, which was hit by cloud-to-ground flashes 2.6 million times, according to the National Weather Service.

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Between 2006 to 2015, 313 people were struck and killed by lightning in the U.S.

Fishermen accounted for 33 deaths, with 18 people killed at the beach, 17 while camping and 14 while boating, according to a January 2015 report by John Jensenius, NOAA’s lightning safety specialist.

“At the beach, it can be difficult to hear the thunder because of the surf,” Jensenius told The Post last year.

And the rules on how to stay safe from lightning can change.

Jensenius said the NWS used to recommend that people who can’t find shelter in a storm get into a crouching position to minimize their height and surface contact, but there “is no safety in the crouch,” he said.

“It’s just really important to follow the forecast if you’re doing some activity outside,” Jensenius said. “If you think you won’t be able to get to safety, don’t do it.”

 

Lightning killed more people in Florida last year than any other state

More people died in Florida last year from lightning strikes than any other state.

Five deaths, including one in Miami-Dade County, are attributed directly to lightning, which is one fewer than in 2014 but higher than the four killed in 2013.

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

Nationwide, 26 people were killed by lightning last year. And they all weren’t just standing outside in the storm.

Some activities occurring before the strike included rounding up cattle, picking blueberries, covering chickens and playing disc golf.

This is severe weather awareness week in Florida and forecasters are highlighting dangerous weather, such as lightning.

In South Florida, in addition to the one person killed in Miami-Dade, eight people were injured as a direct result from lightning strikes. All except one of the strikes occurred during the months of June through September.

Lightning can strike from miles away and when the sun is shining. Also, it’s a myth that more golfers are struck by lightning than people doing other activities.

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)

“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.

Florida, which led the nation in lightning deaths between 2005 and 2014 with 47 people killed, gets 90 percent of its strikes between June and September. Most strikes occur between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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Lightning flashes in the sky over historic Mar-a-Lago owned by Donald Trump, July 30, 2015, in Palm Beach, Florida.  (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)