Believing Lightning Myths Is Dangerous, Especially In Florida; Get The Facts To Protect Yourself And Your Property

June 15, 2011

INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE
Florida Press Office:  (813) 480-6446, lynnem@iii.org
New York Press Office: (212) 346-5500, media@iii.org

 

TAMPA, FL, June 15, 2011 Lightning likes Florida. Everyday storms during summer months may cause people to disregard lightning, and that could have deadly consequences. On average, lightning is responsible for more weather-related deaths in Florida than all other weather hazards combined, and Florida has the highest number of lightning casualties of all 50 states, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
 
Central Florida leads the nation in lightning strikes and meteorologists have  dubbed an area stretching from Tampa to Titusville as “Lightning Alley”. The National Severe Storms Laboratory a division of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports that the highest frequency of cloud-to-ground lightning in the U.S. happens between Tampa and Orlando. This is because, on many days of the year, abundant moisture content in the atmosphere combines with high surface temperatures to produce strong sea breezes—and violent summer storms.
 
Across the U.S., lightning strikes the ground 30 million times each year and injures about a thousand people, according to the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). Hurricane season is also rainy season, and frequent storms have a tendency to make people complacent. But lightning is a serious danger and being struck can cause death or debilitating injuries.
 
“There is no safe place outdoors when thunderstorms boom overhead,” said Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the I.I.I. “The safest strategy is to move indoors whenever you hear thunder because that sound is saying that you are within striking distance.”
 
Lightning is not only deadly; it can be destructive to property. An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found there were more than 213,000 lightning claims in 2010, up nearly 15 percent from 2009. These losses ranged from damage to expensive electronic equipment to structural fires that destroyed entire homes.
 
The I.I.I. puts the average lightning claim at $4,846. By comparison, in 2009, there were about 185,000 lightning claims, which caused nearly $800 million in insured losses with the average claim totaling $4,296. The average cost per claim rose nearly 13 percent from 2009 to 2010 and more than 80 percent from 2004-2010, even as the actual number of claims fell by a little over 23 percent over the six-year period.
 
According to the LPI, three of the most common lightning myths are:
 
  1. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it is a tall, pointy, isolated object.
 
  1. If it is not raining or if there are no clouds overhead, you are safe from lightning. Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the thunderstorm, far outside the area covered by the rain or even the thunderstorm clouds.
 
  1. Lightning rods attract lightning. Fact: Lightning rods DO NOT attract lightning. Instead, they provide a path to the ground for discharging the dangerous electricity.
 
According to NOAA, the sound of thunder travels about a mile every five seconds. Count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder and divided by five to determine how many miles away a storm is located (10 seconds is 2 miles). Rather than do the math, NOAA has a simpler formula: When thunder roars, go indoors!
 
To protect yourself from lightning, the I.I.I. and the LPI recommend the following:
 
  1. If you are outside with a thunderstorm approaching, seek shelter inside a building as soon as possible—ideally in a structure with a lightning protection system.
  2. If a building is not available take shelter in car with a metal roof and keep doors and windows closed. It is the metal frame of the car that protects you from lightning and not the rubber tires. Wearing rubber soled shoes will also not provide any protection. If there is no building or car in which to take shelter, minimize your risk by going to an area of lower elevation and staying away from bodies of water and trees. Stay away from trees! Trees are a dangerous place to be in a thunderstorm.
  3. If someone has been struck by lightning, provide first-aid immediately, begin CPR and call 9-1-1. It is perfectly safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning—you will not get an electrical shock.
  4. Invest in a lightning protection system for your home and or business. A building with a properly installed lightning protection system is a smart investment as it provides proven protection for your family, home and values. It is an important safety investment in areas prone to lightning.
 
I.I.I. Podcasts are available on Lightning Myths and How to Pick a Lightning Protection System.
 
Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 19 through the 25. For more information, contact Jamie Smethie at Jamie@cotedambrosio.com
 
For more information on lightning safety, visit the National Weather Service.
For more information on protecting your home or business from lightning, visit IBHS or the Lightning Protection Institute.
 
 
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT INSURANCE IN FLORIDA: www.insuringflorida.org
FACEBOOK: Insuring-Florida; TWITTER: @InsuringFLA
 
 
THE I.I.I. IS A NONPROFIT, COMMUNICATIONS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED BY THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY.

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