Storm Watch

Severe Weather



The lightning capital
of the nation

Times photo by ERIC PARSONS

Severe weather threatens Hillsborough County. This is a view of the storm from downtown St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay is known as the lightning capital of the nation. In June, 1993, more than 21,000 cloud-to-ground lightning flashes occurred within a 50-mile radius of Tampa Bay. In June 1994, the number of flashes rose to an incredible 50,000.

Florida averages 10 deaths and 30 injuries a year from lightning. Since 1959, Florida has had more than 350 lightning-related deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. (See related story: "A bolt out of the blue")

The temperature of a single bolt can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, about five times as hot as the sun's surface; lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm.

Perhaps most amazing is that so many people survive lightning strikes. "It lasts such a short amount of time, if it doesn't get anything vital like your brain, you're okay," said Martin Uman, a University of Florida professor of electrical engineering and author of three books on lightning.

"It could stop your heart, but hearts are restartable," said Uman. "Very few people are really fried. Usually there's some burning on the outside."

In most cases, Uman said, the victims suffer "a bad shock."

On July 1, 1994, Jeanne Millam was handing out wedding invitations near a dock on the Chassahowitzka River in Citrus County when a bolt snapped a light pole, went underground and re-emerged near Millam, 31.

It was enough to melt her gold bracelet and stop her breathing, but not enough to send her to the hospital.

"I had been through this before," she said. Twenty years ago, and some 20 miles to the east, a bolt ricocheted off a tree and knocked her unconscious.

Are you prepared for a thunderstorm?

Times photo by

Times photo by

Times photo by

©Copyright 1999, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.