Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rare, Fatal Lightning Strikes at Venice Beach

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rare, Fatal Lightning Strikes at Venice Beach

Article excerpt

Lightning fatalities are rare.

In recent years, the number of Americans killed by lightning strikes has been declining. It's down 52 percent since 2006, from 48 deaths to 23 in 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Meteorologists credit greater public awareness and better storm tracking technology. In fact, the National Weather Service office in Colorado is developing a Lightning Potential Index to help residents in the western state safely plan their outdoor activities.

Perhaps that's why the unusual fatal lightning strike on California Venice Beach Sunday is prompting such media attention. The National Weather Service said the beach was hit with four direct strikes. As The Los Angeles Times reported:

The midafternoon lightning strikes killed a 20-year-old man who was pulled from the water and injured at least seven others -- one of them critically. The 15-minute thunderstorm struck as more than 20,000 people were visiting the southern portion of Venice Beach.Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the lightning strikes that hit the Southern California coast Sunday from San Diego to Venice are extremely rare. The West Coast has the lowest incidence of lightning strikes in the nation; the odds of being hit are 1 in 7.5 million in California compared to 1 in 600,000 in Florida, the nation's "lightning champion," he said.The overall odds of being struck in a given year nationwide are 1 in 1.2 million, according to the National Weather Service. But the specific chances of being struck vary, based on geography, annual climatology, and personal hobbies.

A National Weather Service/NOAA analysis of lightning deaths from 2006 to 2013 showed that most victims were males in their 20s engaging in outdoor recreational activities. Contrary to popular myth, most strike victims were not golfers, but more likely to be camping, boating, or fishing enthusiasts. Soccer players were also more likely to be struck by lightning than golfers, perhaps an indication of how widespread awareness of the lightning threat is among golfers and golf course management. Fatalities typically peak in July and August. …

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