Nation's lightning deaths hit record low in 2021; Florida saw the most

By Joe Mario Pedersen

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lightning deaths were a record low in the U.S. in 2021, and Florida led the nation in fatalities.

Strikes killed 11 people last year, according to the National Lightning Safety Council.

Florida had the most with four, lower than usual. In 2016, strikes killed 10 people statewide, a quarter of the national deaths.

Florida’s lowest counts were one in 2011 and three each in 2019 and 2020.

“This new low of 11 lightning deaths is dramatically fewer than the 432 Americans killed by lightning in 1943,” said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the NLSC. “When the Lightning Safety Awareness Campaign began in 2001, the U.S. averaged 47 lightning fatalities a year. The average number of deaths for the past five years has now dropped to 17.”

Eight of last year’s deaths nationally were related to leisure activities, and three with work-related activities.

Five of the leisure fatalities were on beaches and three on golf courses.

Ten men and one woman — in Tybee Island, Georgia — were killed.

The Florida deaths were a 71-year-old in Marco Island, a 17-year-old in Sanibel Island, a 59-year-old in St. Petersburg and a 19-year-old in Lakewood Ranch.

One study showed Florida has the highest lightning density in the country, with Volusia County singled out as the most active county in Central Florida with a range of 128 to 256 lightning events 2021, according to a study by Vaisala, an organization that studies lightning events all over the world.

The study also noted Texas has the most overall cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the country with most activity recorded in the east part of the state.

When lightning is in the area, Vaisala recommends seeking overhead shelter immediately, but not under a tree, which is dangerous.

If someone is struck by lightning, CPR and life-saving actions can be applied immediately as people who are struck do not carry any leftover electrical charge, Vaisala said.

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