South Florida tops for deadly lightning strikes

With its summers packed full of thunderstorms, South Florida sees more lightning deaths than any other region in the United States – 97 victims in the past 55 years.

Most of those fatalities occurred in June, July and August, showing that lightning is an opportunistic killer, said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service in Miami.

"This is when we get most of our thunderstorms and also when a lot of people are outdoors on vacation, at summer camps and at the beach," he said.

Here's more on lightning in South Florida:

Are some parts of South Florida more dangerous?

The area west of Florida's Turnpike tends to see the most lightning because the sea breeze pushes storms inland, said Molleda. Of South Florida's lightning fatalities in the past decade, nine were in this zone.

"Also, inland Palm Beach County between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic coast gets more storms from the collision of the Atlantic sea breeze and the Lake Okeechobee breeze," he added.

Open areas of water and the beach also can be perilous.

How many people have died in South Florida?

In the past decade, there have been 14 lightning deaths in South Florida, including six in Broward County, five in Palm Beach County and three in Miami-Dade County. Blame the frequency of such strikes on 70 to 80 days of thunderstorms each year, brewed by a combination of warm moist air, sunshine, heat and sea breezes.

Is lightning more prone to hit males or females?

By far, males – 90 vs. 28 nationwide in the past five years alone. That's mainly because boys and men are more willing to take risks than girls and women, the weather service said.

In the past decade, all of South Florida's lightning victims were male. That includes Robert Elliott, 55, the region's latest victim, who was struck while repairing the roof of a Pompano Beach car dealership on June 2.

Is one age group more at risk than others?

Historically, those aged 10-19 are struck more than any other age group because they like to play outside when school is out, the weather service said.

Yet in South Florida, in the past 10 years, all but one of the victims were aged 20 or older. The youngest victim, Schaffner Noel, 15, of Coconut Creek, was killed while watching a junior varsity football game in October 2005.

Have there been any unusual occurrences?

Oddly, two men in their 50s were killed on Lake Okeechobee while fishing on the same date, June 8 – one in 2012, the other in 2013. Before that, a man was killed by lightning while trimming grass in Coral Springs in 2009, also on June 8.

Jim Lushine, a retired forecaster and weather expert, recalled that several years ago, "a gentleman was in his bathroom sitting on his throne when lightning struck the house and went through its plumbing. The shock ejected the poor fellow, injuring him, but not severely."

When was Florida's most deadly lightning year?