Fishermen, campers top list of lightning victims

Staff reportJuly 14, 2013 

Two-thirds of the people who died of a lightning strike from 2006-12 were struck while taking part in outdoor leisure.


A new review of deaths caused by lightning between 2006-2012 shows water-related activities such as fishing, boating and swimming account for 36 percent of all leisure-related deaths.

The analysis was done by John S. Jensenius Jr., lightning safety specialist for the National Weather Service. The release was timely as July is the month with the most lightning fatalities.

In the review’s time frame, 238 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States. Almost two thirds of those deaths happened to people who had been enjoying outdoor leisure activities.

Of the 152 lightning deaths that occurred while the victim was participating in a leisure activity, fishing tops the list at 26 deaths, the review said. Camping was next with 15 deaths, while boating was third on the list at 14 deaths. Soccer (12) and beach activities (11) rounded out the top five.

“When people think of lightning deaths, they usually think of golf,” Jensenius said in a news release. There were just eight golf-related deaths in that time, the study showed.

“While every outdoor activity is dangerous when a thunderstorm is in the area, outdoor activities other than golf lead to more lightning deaths,” Jensenius said.

He said the large number of fishing and boating lightning deaths might occur because these activities require extra time to get to a safe place.

“People often wait far too long to head to safety when a storm is approaching, and that puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” Jensenius said in a statement.

Another finding showed men make up 82 percent of lightning victims.

The study offers possible explanations for this finding: males are unaware of all the dangers associated with lightning, are more likely to be in vulnerable situations, are unwilling to be inconvenienced by the threat of lightning, are in situations that make it difficult to get to a safe place in a timely manner, don’t react quickly to the lightning threat or any combination of these explanations.

In short, because of their behavior, men are at a higher risk of being struck and, consequently, are struck and killed by lightning more often than women, Jensenius said.

Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if people can hear thunder, they are in danger of being struck by lightning, according to the Weather Service. The only safe places to be during a thunderstorm are in a building with four walls and a roof or in a car. A hut, cabana, tent, or other rain shelter will not protect a person from being struck by lightning.

Fishermen and boaters can best protect themselves from lightning by monitoring the weather and postponing or canceling outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the area or forecast.

The study was released June 24 during National Lightning Safety Awareness Week.

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