Thunderstorms, Lightning, You, and How to Be Safe

Central Florida and weather go hand in hand. Weather is a constant and changes all the time. We are subject to different types of weather from the arctic cold to blistering hot depending what time of year it is. Here in central Florida we have many times where we will see and encounter thunderstorms. Thunderstorms come mostly in the summer time when the weather is hot, and humid, but we still have the opportunity to have these during the fall, winter, and spring. If you live in Orlando, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne Beach, or any other town or city you can expect to have this happen at some point in time. Most of bad weather, thunderstorms, and lightning happen during the warmer more humid days of summer. For this reason it is really important to understand and follow some guidelines for weather safety, indoors and outdoors. If you are caught outside in a lightning storm what to do, and if in the home the do’s and dont’s for making this a safer encounter.

Bad or inclement weather happens more frequently during the days of summer when most people are in the great outdoors. Going to the beach, playing sports, or just out for a walk in the park. Thunderstorms spark static electricity in the form of lightning. As the air heats up from the early morning, it rises against gravity’s pull downward (the thing that keeps out feet firmly planted on the ground). As moisture rises we have the formation of clouds in the sky. As the land heats more during the early to mid morning, we see more and more definement to cloud formations. As the clouds thicken, they build higher and higher into the upper atmosphere, water droplets rise up into the higher altitudes and they start to get colder, therefore freezing into ice crystals. As the clouds thicken more and more the small droplets go up and then refreeze. During this process of cloud formation this cycle happens over and over again. Sometimes this leads to hail which is another form of cloud formation and weather.

The clouds are building higher and higher. Before you know it we get rain. The rain a lot of time carries lightning and the sound of thunder. The sound of thunder is a by product of the lightning piercing through the air as such a rate of speed that the air claps back together with such force we get the boom sound. The sound that comes after the flash in the sky is measure in time and distance. For every 5 seconds that pass after the flash of lightning measures roughly 1 mile in distance from the strike. So if you see the flash of lightning and don’t hear the sound of boom for 20 seconds, the distance is roughly 4 miles. Lightning is a very strong static current of electricity. This power of over 1 million volts can power the city of Palm Bay Fla for one 24 hour period. The biggest difference to regular electricity is that is captured and brought into your home or business through the power wires outside and in the walls of the structure. Lightning is the number 2 killer in the state, next to rip currents. Lightning can cause you problems in the outdoors and indoors if you don’t heed the warnings and practice some key things to be safe.

Outdoors you have very little cover from bad weather and lightning. Tall objects attract the powerful bolts which can split trees, zap people, start forest fires, burn out the internal circuitry of you house hold items, TV, DVD, microwave, radio, stereo, and anything you have plugged into the electrical outlets in you home or business. When outside and you are noticing that the storms seem to be moving in quickly, leave the open areas as quickly as possible. Head for you autos and make you way off the beaches, or open outdoor places. If you get caught by a fast moving thunderstorm you will know what I experienced a few times after being caught with really no where to hide from bad weather. Lightning can travel multiple miles before coming in contact with the ground and therefore you. You best know the rules for getting out of the path of lightning. I was in middle north west Floria outside Ocala and got caught while in my truck in a bad lightning storm. The sound of lightning ripping through the air sounded like bacon frying in the pan, then as fast as the flash of bright light, KA BOOM!!. This was literal enough to make you poop in your pants. While boating in the Fl Keys, my uncle tried to out run a storm in his boat. Needless to say, he ran aground missing the channel and I had to get in the water and push the boat out of the turtle grass while hiding behind the motor to duck out of the way of the crazy lightning strikes. While training for bike racing, I used to ride only to get caught in the radical thunderstorms of the early afternoons. I used to hide in the stairwells of buildings as the storm passed, lightning cracking, thunder booming, and like most people I hid and waited for this to pass.

Tips for being safe in the outside world when thunderstorms come in a charging. 1. get out of Dodge. Pack your thing way in advance and leave your outdoor retreat area. Get a least into your automobile. If that doesn’t work, seek shelter in a building nearby. DO NOT RUN FOR A TALL OBJECT!! Stay away from trees or other tall structures. Lightning seeks to strike the highest point so you should be away from these places. If you get caught outside in a thunderstorm and can’t make it to a safe area, find the lowest place you can find. A ditch, hole in the ground, or a low lying location that will likely not attract the random striking of lightning. If you notice that the hair on you head or arms is up, dive down and watch out. It’s not the main bolt that will likely strike you, it’s the feeder bands that strike outward from the main bolt. Look up lightning on Google and check out the images to get a better idea of what it looks like and how you can be struck. Don’t go surfing in a thunderstorm because like one South Florida surfer knows, you can be struck and he was after not leaving Sebastian Inlet when a storm passed.

Indoor lightning safety is also very important. When you home, office, or apartment  is being bombarded with lightning, you should not take a shower, talk on the phone, and look out the window or an open door. Since the roof line is higher up in the sky, lightning could very well strike you home and in many cases it does. Case in point, a multi million dollar home was destroyed by fire after lightning struck the home while the owners were out of town. Lightning strikes have happened to people who were talking on the phone during a thunderstorm after the lightning struck the power pole and the energy ran through the metal lines into the home where the person was on the phone. Metal pipes, wires, and other things used to build you home, apt, or office are conductors. If lightning hits nearby it will travel through those things and end up inside. I visited a friends home after lightning hit right next to his place, and all electrical appliances were destroyed by the surge of power from the bolt.

Always remember that if you see lightning and the sound of thunder is within 20 seconds, head inside. Lightning travels over 20 miles from cloud to cloud then cloud to ground, so be for warned. Stay clear and unplug your electrical appliances, or buy surge protectors to provide that extra piece of mind and keep those high dollar electronics safe. Thunderstorms and lightning are no fun to be in, so keep yourself safe and live to talk about your encounter. Living in Florida we get our fair share of thunderstorms from the summer rainy season to strong cold fronts marching in during the fall, winter, and spring months. If you live in Florida, you will see and most likely be in a thunderstorm so play it safe and remember you can go back outside 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder has passed. You’ll be happy that you followed some key guidelines on lightning safety. Enjoy the great Florida outdoors and be prepared.

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