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Disaster Planning/don't swim in the rain


QUESTION: Dear Heather, ([pretty name by the way) this is something I've heard for as long as I can remember. But I don't understand why? And I can't find it on the internet.

Is lightening more likely to strike the water?
I live in Fl and this is my very first hurricane season. I've looked into shelters so know where I can go.

I am from Maine and we didn't worry about hurricanes.

Does thunder pop up a lot when there is rain? A couple of days ago we went to our community pool to find it had been closed due to thunder and lightning. I heard the thunder but never saw any lightening. Do they normally go together?


ANSWER: Hi Joyce
thank you for being aware of safety matters and looking for answers after moving to a state that has a VERY different climate than the one you moved from!  Florida is well known for it's awesome thunderstorms, and is in fact, the lightning strike capital of the USA, and has had the most fatalities from lightning strikes than any other state.  I lived in Florida for 15 years and remember some really impressive thunderstorms!  

Basically, you know that lightning is a giant bolt of electricity, when lightning occurs, the thunder that you hear after is the actual sound of the lightning, so when there is thunder, there is lightning that came before it (as light travels faster than sound).  Sometimes the lightning is far away and we only hear the thunder, but they always go hand in hand.

Lightning is acting as all electricity does and is "searching" for the easiest path to get into the ground.  Often tall trees will be hit as they are great "conductors" for the electricity and the lightning can make it to the ground quickly when it strikes a tree.  All buildings (and houses too) in Florida are required to be "grounded", they have long copper rods buried in the ground that are wired to the house so that if the house is hit by lightning it will hopefully go through the ground rods as the easiest path.

Water is a fantastic conductor of electricity (remember the warning to never blow dry your hair while in the bath tub, drop the dryer in the tub of water and it may be the very last thing you ever do.)  So if lightning should strike the water in a pool, which is actually unlikely, but it is possible and has happened, any person in the pool will get electrocuted.  So, better safe than sorry.  

One of the most dangerous places to be in Florida is on the beach when the thunderstorms roll in.  I remember many times when we were on the beach and the black thunderstorm clouds would start forming out over the ocean.  We knew it was time to pack it up and get out of there, but we were always surprised at the number of tourists who would stay on the beach, even after lifeguard warnings to leave.  The thunderstorm does not have to be directly overhead for a stray bolt of lightning to come down.  A barefoot person standing on water-logged sand on the open beach is a perfect lightning rod, and many a people have met their fate on the beach while being bbq'd by a lightning bolt...  Not a fun way to go.  

So, thanks for playing it safe, and ALWAYS get out of the water and off the beach when you can see or hear a thunderstorm coming in, they can move in VERY fast in Florida, in just a matter of minutes.  If you are in a boat on the water, you aren't safe there either so get to shore ASAP.

I hope this information is helpful, and again, thank you for being safety conscious. I am also really glad to hear that you have found out about the local hurricane shelters.  If you are ever in a situation with an approaching hurricane and your community is told to evacuate, then evacuate, don't mess around with hurricanes, they can be very dangerous and destructive, I know.  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: That's interesting. I didn't realize all that. Now what I need to know is 1) is lightning MORE LIKELY to strike the water than if I were say just out walking along?
2.) Is it true or just a tale that you can tell how far away a thunderstorm is by counting the seconds between claps of thunder (for example 5 sec, 5 miles away ect)

Hi Joyce,
lightning is not more likely to strike water, but due to the electrical conductivity of water, if you are in water when it strikes, you will most likely not survive.  Lightning usually hits the highest object on it's path to the ground (a tree, a person standing in a boat, a lightning rod on top of a building, a person standing in an open field.)  So, you are always safer inside a building, and your next choice is in your vehicle, than outside in a thunderstorm.  Lightning can also indirectly hit someone by hitting a tree nearby the person, then travelling through the ground and then hitting the person.  The moral of the story is, don't mess with lightning, especially in the state that has the most lightning fatalities of any of them!  (Florida)

Yes, you can count between seeing the flash and hearing the thunder to see how far away the lightning struck.  Count seconds, from when you see the flash, when you hear the thunder, then divide the number of seconds by 5 and that's approximately how many miles away the bolt was.  So, if you get to 10 seconds, the lightning was 2 miles away, 5 seconds, it was a mile away, 2 1/2 seconds, it was 1/2 a mile away, etc.  This is because light travels much faster than sound.  Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, which to us on Earth when seeing a lightning bolt, is basically almost instantaneously.  However, sound takes about 5 seconds to travel a mile.

Hope this helps.  Again, thanks for being safety conscious, and please, always play it safe and don't take chances with lightning.  The lightning does not care whether or not someone is afraid or brave, all it wants is the fastest path to the ground.  

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Heather Taracka


I am an Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Instructor and I created and operate the website My primary area of expertise is in individual and family emergency and disaster preparedness. I also have knowledge in neighborhood and organizational emergency preparedness. Ask me questions about necessary steps to take to prepare your home,family, organization or neighborhood for a multitude of natural or man-made disasters, as each possible disaster has different preparatory steps.


I have years of experience in disaster relief and search and rescue and belong to a couple of related organizations. I have taken numerous courses on the subject (some FEMA) and spent countless hours researching information on individual and family preparedness.


I have a large amount of real-life diaster preparedness experience. I teach a course on Personal Emergency Preparedness (which I created after hundreds of hours studying the subject). I have myself been directly affected numerous disasters including; hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornados, winter storms, and house fires.

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