Lightning fatalities in the U.S. reached an all-time low in 2017, but Florida once again led the nation with more than 30 percent of the deaths occurring in the Sunshine State.
There were 16 fatal lightning strikes nationwide in 2017, breaking the previous low record of 23 deaths in 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fatal lightning strikes were also down significantly from 2016, when the country saw 39 deaths.
"While we don’t like to see any lightning deaths, the continuing downward trend in yearly fatalities is encouraging," National Weather Service lightning safety specialist John Jensenius said in a news release.
Five of the 16 fatal lightning strikes in 2017 happened in Florida, which was down from 2016 when there were 10 fatalities in the Sunshine State. Jensenius said there are a few reasons why Florida tends to have more fatal lightning strikes than any other state.
"In terms of lightning, Florida has the most lightning per square mile of any state in the U.S. and also a sizable population," Jensenius said. "In addition, Florida has many outdoor recreational activities that cause people to be vulnerable to a lightning strike. Finally, in Florida, lightning is a very common afternoon threat for those who work outside or are outside as part of their daily routine."
Alabama had three fatal lightning strikes in 2017; Colorado, Texas and North Carolina had three; and Ohio and Puerto Rico both had one.
Officials said 15 of the lightning strike victims in 2017 were men and one was a woman. Half of the victims were partaking in an outdoor recreational activity such as horseback riding, camping, boating, biking or fishing.
The first lightning death in Florida in 2017 was on May 17 when Guadalupe Salinas was struck in Jensen Beach while doing construction near a pool area. More than a month later, Edwin Ramos Jarquin Armas, who was also working construction, was struck in Pembroke Pines on June 27.
Two days after that, a woman who was nine months pregnant was struck while walking outside her home. Meghan Davidson was rushed to the hospital and gave birth, but her baby, Owen Davidson, died weeks later, according to reports.
On July 10, Jeremy Harper was struck while camping under a tree in Baker.
The final lightning death in Florida in 2017 happened on July 28 when Lamar Rayfield was walking on a beach in Brevard County.
Jensenius credits increased awareness and amplified safety protocols for the continued decrease in fatal lightning strikes.
"When the National Weather Service began the Lightning Safety Campaign in 2001, about 55 lightning deaths occurred each year based on the previous 10-year average. That death toll has now been cut in half with the current 10-year average of 27 deaths per year. I attribute much of this reduction to an increased awareness of the lightning danger which, in turn, has led to better lightning safety policies for outdoor sports and recreational organizations," Jensenius said.
The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 1,083,000, according to the National Weather Service. About 90 percent of people who are struck by lightning survive, click here to read from one of those survivors.
The National Weather Service recommends going indoors at the first sign of a storm. Anyone who is outside when rain starts is recommended to avoid open areas, stay away from isolated tall trees, towers, utility poles and any kind of metal conductor such as wire or fences.