Travelling with the family the second weekend in June to Florida, we drove through rain in every state.
As we neared our destination, Orlando, Florida, the rain became heavy, almost torrential, or tropical at times and there was a fair amount of lightning.
That was to be expected, though.
Florida, with the Gulf of Mexico on the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, there’s more than an abundant supply of moisture, making it a breeding ground for thunderstorms.
in the central portion of Florida where we were vacationing, they will average 80+ days with thunder each year.
The “Sunshine State” is the most lightning-prone state in America.
A typical year produces more than 1.4 million lighting strikes or, about one for every 24.7 square miles.
The study of lightning is fulminology.
So, what causes lightning?
It’s basically caused by colliding particles of rain, ice and/or snow in the thunderheads, creating an electrical imbalance between storm clouds and the ground, or the clouds themselves.
There are 3 main types of lightning.
There’s “intra-cloud” (IC), as well as “cloud-to-cloud” (CC) and “cloud-to-ground” (GC).
There’s also something known as a “positive giant” (PG) which is known for hitting the ground as far as 20 miles from the actual storm.
That may be where the term “A bolt from the blue” came from.
A “positive giant” comes from a cloud but normally originates in the anvil top of a thunderhead and is much more destructive than regular lightning.
“Spider lightning” or “light crawlers” can travel more than 30 miles. scooting across the bottoms of clouds or through the frontal cloud of squall lines.
There’s also “ball lightning” that looks like spherical, luminous balls and their speed can very greatly.
“Ball lightning” can be quiet or occasionally produce a cracking or hissing sound, sometimes quickly fading away or suddenly disappearing with a very loud bang.
The average striking length of a lightning bolt is closer to 2-3 miles
But look quickly because the typical lifespan of a bolt of lightning is just 1-2 milliseconds.
Lightning is also quite hot.
An extremely hot flash can heat the surrounding air to 5 times that on the surface of our sun (50,000 degrees Farenheit).
That causes the air to expand rapidly and vibrate which causes the thunder we associate with flashes of lightning.
If you see a flash and count 5 seconds, that storm is a mile away since sound travels much slower than light.
On average, each bolt of lightning can produce more than 100 million volts of electricity some even more.
Forget solar panels.
Let’s figure out a way to harness lightning.
Men are 4 times more likely than women to be struck by lightning.
A guy names Walter Summerford was struck by lightning 3 times during his life and then his grave marker was also struck by a bolt of lightning.
His epitath should have read, “Was it something I said?”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric severe storms lab, the odds of being struck by lightning in your life is about 1 in 13,000.
Nine out of 10 individuals struck by lightning in the U.S. survive.
Since 2009, the U.S. has recorded an average of 27 deaths per year due to bolts of lightning.
That means your odds of being killed by lightning are 1 in roughly 1.2 million.
The fear of thunder and lightning is called “astraphobia”.
Chi Coltrane had an early 70’s hit called “Thunder and Lightning”.
With all those facts before us, though, I doubt I will ever observe a thunderstorm in the future without remembering June 9th, 2019.
As we were travelling to our Florida vacation destination, there was a bolt of lightning and an almost immediate crash of thunder, meaning the strike was fairly close.
Almost immediately, we saw nothing but red tail lights glowing ahead of us on all 3 lanes of I-95 southbound in Volusia County, about 50 miles east of Orlando.
Traffic came to a complete stop.
Moments later, we saw three Florida State Patrol cars zip past us on the left shoulder.
Eventually, the 3 lanes of traffic merged to a single lane on the far right.
The traffic slowly crawled by a location where a fireman’s coat covered a body.
I found out later it was 45 year old Benjamin “Austin” Lee of Charlotte, North Carolina.
An off-duty Virginia State Trooper told authorities he saw a bolt of lightning hit Lee’s helmet as he passed the area in the northbound lane.
The coroner said Lee was killed by the lightning bolt despite the first aid efforts of several drivers who stopped to assist.
His helmet was cracked in several places and scorched from the bolt that hit him.
In a “Go Fund Me” posting, family friends said he was an adventurous guy and could not wait “to see the world”.
Our van got very quiet for several minutes as we drove on from the scene and we wondered if Benjamin “Austin” Lee had passed us earlier in the trip.
I wondered if he might have been heading for the “Happiest Place on Earth” as we were.
My hope is that Benjamin “Austin” Lee is today is a place much happier than even Walt Disney could create.
It all happened…in a flash.