A direct lightning strike does not happen very often, but it can cause substantial structural damage with an ensuing fire. The chance that your home will be struck is low, but it is not zero, and is greater than winning the lottery. In 2020 one home in the Village of Dunedin was struck and heavily damaged. In 2021 there was a close call in the Village of Monarch Grove. The strike put a two-foot hole in the roof but, fortunately, no ensuing fire. Just last month, a home was struck and destroyed in the Village of Amelia (Pictured below: See the interview with the owner accompanying this article). Twenty -one homes have been destroyed in The Villages since 2004. Lightning is one of the most underrated severe weather hazards. It ranks as one of the top weather killers. Here in The Villages, we are living in “the lightning capital of the nation.” Florida typically ranks as the number one state in lightning deaths, injuries, and property damage each year.
While we experience lightning year-round, it begins to ramp up in May. The National Weather Service (NWS) data shows that for our area we experience, on average, 80 thunderstorm days per year. According to local weather observers, we typically average about 108 days with thunder and lightning. Remember, lightning is not only dangerous but highly UNPREDICTABLE and does not always strike the tallest object in your area.
LIGHTNING AWARENESS – PLAN AHEAD: The National Lightning Safety Council’s awareness campaign is focused on planning ahead to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
- Pay attention to the local weather forecast and plan ahead so you can act quickly to get to
- Consider a cell phone app that gives weather including lightning
- WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO INDOORS!
Places that are not safe to be around during a thunderstorm include trees, golf courses, fences, dugouts, lakes, swimming pools, picnic areas, pickleball courts, tennis courts, softball fields, open fields, flag poles, picnic shelters, fishing, light poles, bleachers, dog parks, nature trails, etc.
A hard topped, all-metal vehicle can qualify as a safe refuge from lightning provided the windows are closed and you are not touching any metal parts in the vehicle. Golf carts, motorcycles, convertibles, and bicycles are not safe during a thunderstorm.
While no place is entirely safe from lightning you should seek shelter in a substantial building which can be your own home. Even when you are in your home (or substantial building) you are not entirely safe from lightning and should avoid windows, plumbing (including taking a shower during a thunderstorm),electrical equipment, appliances, and corded telephones – unless of course there is an emergency. Cell and portable telephones are not wire-connected so they are fine to use.
AFTER THE STORM PASSES: An integral part of the NWS’s awareness campaign, WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO INDOORS, is to wait 30 minutes after the last sighting of lightning or rumble of thunder. Lightning has been known to strike outside of the rain area from up to 25 miles away. In some cases, this has occurred even after the clouds have departed and the sun has come out. This is sometimes referred to as “a strike from the blue.”
REMEMBER: LIGHTNING LOVES TECHNOLOGY!
Consider surge protection for your appliances and electronics from indirect lightning strikes. Typically, indirect lightning strikes are more frequent but less severe than a direct lightning strike. A surge protection device installed on your electric meter by your utility or on your electric panel in the garage by a licensed electrician is a good idea. This is generally called Primary Surge Protection. WARNING: This alone is not “whole house” surge protection. You will also need Secondary Surge Protection, sometimes called “point-of-use” or “plug ins” that plug into a 120-volt wall outlet.
Power strips are another type of surge protection for computers and TVs. Surges can also enter your home through other sources such as the lines for your telephone, natural gas or propane, and cable/satellite. Therefore, it is vitally important that telephone and coaxial lines be routed through a surge protector as well.
DO I NEED LIGHTNING RODS FOR MY HOME? You are the only one who can answer that question based on your personal risk tolerance for a direct lightning strike to your home.
None of the homes that sustained considerable damage or were a total loss had a lightning protection system (LPS), commonly known as “lightning rods.” Lightning rods do work if they are designed, installed, and maintained to meet the national standard and are installed by firms that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and employ personnel that have qualified as Master Installer by examination by the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). Door-to-door solicitors will not meet these criteria; therefore, BUYER BEWARE!
You may have noted that The Villages has installed lightning protection on all waste-water treatment facilities, pumping stations, nearly all buildings at Sumter Landing, fire headquarters and adjacent Emergency Operations Center, the Savannah Center, the Sharon Morse Performing Arts Center among others. Most of the larger churches and hotels are also protected.
Len Hathaway is a retired fire protection consultant who has authored articles and has been giving free non-commercial educational presentations about lightning for over a decade. His colleague, Frank Criste, is a retired electrical engineer, a member of the Lightning Protection Institute, and certified LPS designer/inspector.