Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A few days in the lightning capital of the USA*...

     * Central Florida (see map below)
... and an exasperating day of lightning-related travel delays getting home from there got me to revisiting a question that came up recently while hiking in a Yosemite thunderstorm: How many people are killed by lightning? Well, not many: In recent years, an average of about 33 Americans per year. And what are people doing when they are killed by lightning? Our man at the National Weather Service, John Jensenius, has the goods. From the Executive Summary:
From 2006 through 2013, 261 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States. Almost two thirds of the deaths occurred to people who had been enjoying outdoor leisure activities. The common belief that golfers are responsible for the greatest number of lightning deaths was shown to be a myth. During this 8-year period fishermen accounted for more than three times as many fatalities as golfers, while camping and boating each accounted for almost twice as many deaths as golf. From 2006 to 2013, there were a total of 30 fishing deaths, 16 camping deaths, and 14 boating deaths, and 13 beach deaths. Of the sports activities, soccer saw the greatest number of deaths with 12, as compared to golf with 8. Around the home, yard work (including mowing the lawn) accounted for 12 fatalities. For work-related activities, ranching/farming topped the list with 14 deaths.
... Work-related activities contributed to 15% of the total lightning fatalities.... Farming/ranching-related activities contributed most (37%) to the work-related deaths. Other activities included construction (11%), lawn care (8%), roofing (8%), military work (5%), barge work (5%), and other (24%).
At the Orlando Airport, American Airlines workers stop loading bags if there has been a lightning strike within 5 miles during the previous 20 minutes. As I discovered, this can lead to pretty long delays taking off on a typical summer afternoon in Lightning Alley. Looking out the plane window as we sat on the tarmac, we could see the Jet Blue planes being loaded and taxiing toward takeoff. We were told over the intercom that "some other airlines" may not care as much about worker safety.


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