Lightning is one of the most underrated severe weather hazards, yet it ranks as one of the top weather killers. Here in The Villages we are living in “the lightning capital of the nation”. To focus attention on lightning safety the National Lightning Safety Council (NLSC) conducts an annual campaign called Lightning Safety Awareness Week. This year the dates are June 20-26, in advance of the summer lightning season across the country.

For The Villages, we can and do experience lightning year-round, but 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 a local weather observer we typically average about 110 days with thunder and lightning.

On September 4, 2017, a 12-year-old boy was struck at the conclusion of a youth soccer tournament at the Polo Fields.  Fortunately, he did eventually recover thanks to the action of the tournament coordinator, EMS, and hospital personnel. This event demonstrates the UNPREDICTABILY of lightning because it had not rained at the Polo Fields. However, it was reported that lightning was experienced two miles north of the Polo Fields.

Lightning Awareness – Plan Ahead
The NLSC’s lightning awareness campaign is focused on planning ahead to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.

  • Listen to the local weather forecast
  • Plan ahead and know where to go for shelter
  • Consider a cell phone weather app that includes lightning strikes
  • Act early so that you can quickly get to shelter

Places that are not safe 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 also qualifies as safe refuge from lightning provided that the windows are closed, and you are not touching any metal parts in the vehicle.

Remember lightning is not only dangerous but highly UNPREDICTABLE and does not always strike the tallest object in your area. 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:

  • Plumbing including taking a shower during a thunderstorm
  • Electrical equipment and appliances
  • Corded telephones – unless of course there is an emergency – (cell and portable telephones are not wire-connected telephones)
  • Windows

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 ten 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.”

Do I need surge protection for my appliances/electronics from indirect lightning strikes?
Consider the level of risk to your valuable appliances and electronics that can be damaged due to a surge even from an indirect lightning strike in your vicinity. You may wish to consider a surge protection device installed on your electric meter by your utility, or on your electric panel in the garage by a licensed electrician. This is generally called Primary Surge Protection. WARNING: This alone is not “whole house” surge protection. You 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 telephone and cable/satellite lines. Therefore, it is vitally important that telephone and coaxial lines be routed through a surge protector as well.

REMEMBER: Lightning Loves Technology!

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. The chance of your home being struck is very low, but you also need to weigh the potential severity that can be very high to include the possible destruction of your home, damage to possessions and a threat to your family and pets. Lightning rods do work if they are designed, installed, and maintained to meet the national standard on lightning and installed by firms that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and employ personnel that have qualified as a Master Installer by examination by the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). Door-to-door solicitors will not meet these criteria; therefore, BUYER BEWARE!

Pets and Thunderstorms
Pets may be particularly sensitive to loud sounds like thunder as well as changes in barometric pressure and even static electricity. There are many sites on the internet discussing this issue and the need for safe spaces, thunder jackets, and alternative background noise among other suggestions. You may also wish to consult with your veterinarian.

What state is the Lighting Capital of the Nation?
Recent news releases by Vaisala (the vendor operating the US National Detection Network) shows that over the last five years Oklahoma edged out Florida as having the most lightning strikes.
Oklahoma 83.4 strikes per square kilometer
Florida 82.8 strikes per square kilometer
However, in 2020 Florida topped all states:
Florida 75.1 strikes per square kilometer
Oklahoma 69.7 strikes per square kilometer
This author continues to consider Florida as the Lightning Capital of the Nation.