Lightning Center of the US
Summer Storm – Jonathan Dickinson State Park – Jupiter, Fl
Despite Florida’s claim to the sunshiniest location, it is also the nation’s hot spot of lightning strikes. According to NASA Florida’s geography, hydrology, and weather patterns combine to create the perfect conditions for more than 90 thunderstorm days a year. 90 thunderstorm days might not seem like a lot, but according to stats there are more lightning related deaths than ALL other weather related deaths combined.
Lightning, huh? More than tornados, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes (yes, there are earth quakes in Florida), freezes and hail – combined? When you break it down, the statistic makes sense. Despite Florida dangling precipitously into the Caribbean, the state does not experience high hurricane activity every year. We haven’t had a whopper in a while. Tornados are more frequent than hurricanes, but the state has made great strides in early warnings systems and building codes that prevent fatalities. Floods are usually slow to build in the very flat terrain of Florida. While flash floods are possible, typically Floridian know the flood is coming days ahead of time. Earthquakes – well, yes we have them, but they minor and very infrequent. Freezes do happen at least once a year. They can be dangerous to people without proper housing and heating, especially the elderly and homeless. But, once again, the state does a good job in making shelter and resources available to mitigate danger. Hail – well, not usually killer to anything except your windshield and wildflowers.
When about 1/3 of the year is spent in the midst of a thunderstorm there is going to be a lot of lightning. In Florida lightning is not a few strikes here and there. Florida lightning in intense, frequent, and wide spread. A single thunderhead can prove hundreds of strikes. Thousands of strikes in 15 or 20 minutes. Between late May and September you can almost set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms. As the gulf sea breeze clashes with the interior heating of the state thunderheads boil up and erupt into a red and purple Doppler radar mess.
Every day, in the afternoon between May and September Florida’s beaches, gulf courses, sports fields, sidewalks, pools, and parks are filled with people enjoying the best that Florida has to offer: her geography. Every year meteorologist plead with Floridians to be weather aware. Be cautious. Get out of the water if you hear thunder. Go inside. Seek shelter. Get off the golf course. Get off the roof!
Yet, Florida remains the lightning death epicenter. Are we uninformed? Inured? In denial? Obsessed with golf and the beach? Probably yes to all of the above. Electricity indiscriminately snaking out of the sky and using a human as the shortest path to its intended destination should serve as a tidy reminder. We are not true maters of our domain. Florida is inherently a dangerous place. Oh, sure we’ve mastered the heat and humidity with air conditioning. We mastered the mosquito with pesticides. We mastered the swamp with drainage and pavement. Lightning – not much we can do about that. Florida is scary. There are prehistoric forces at work here. Alligators are a throw back to times in which people could be snacks more easily than they could be a foe. And lightning – that’s just a down right elemental force of nature that is to be respected and revered. Lightning keeps up us humble. Lightning keeps us honest. We might build air-conditioned condo palaces perched between a sandy paradise and watery destruction – but go ahead – take a stroll out to your Buick in the Villa Boca Vista wide, flat, parking lot with tower metal light posts during a rain storm. Sure, wear your golf cleats. Yes, by all means use the umbrella. Do it – let’s see who’s in charge.