Experts: Motorcyclists especially vulnerable to lightning

Bikes provide their riders with very little protection against the elements

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Troopers have identified the motorcyclist killed Sunday after he was struck by lightning while riding down Interstate 95 in Volusia County.

Benjamin Lee, 45, of Charlotte, N.C., was heading south on I-95 near Ormond Beach about 3 p.m. when the bolt of lightning struck and his bike overturned, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Lee died at the scene.

RELATED: Call made to dispatch after motorcyclist struck by lightning

The 45-year-old man isn't the first to be killed in a scenario like this. In fact, at least 11 motorcyclists have died from lightning strikes since 2006.

Florida leads the nation in lightning deaths, according to National Weather Service data. There were 7 deaths here in 2018. In the past decade, 47 people have died from lightning strikes in Florida.

Lightning safety

If you're caught outside with no shelter, experts have the following tips

  • Immediately leave elevated areas -- hills, ridges, peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground or shelter under a lone tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter in a storm
  • Immediately get away from ponds, lakes and other water
  • Stay away from metal fences, poles and other objects

If you're inside but still concerned about lightning, consider these tips:

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electronics
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets
  • Stay away from windows and doors; get off the porch
  • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls

Source: National Weather Service

"About 4 percent of fatalities are people who are either riding on motorcycle bikes or ATVs," said John Jensenius, a former NWS expert who's now in charge of the National Lightning Safety Council.

Contrary to popular belief, Jensenius said, the rubber from your tires will not protect you from lightning. But the metal shell of a hard-top vehicle will give you a measure of protection from the elements.

Jason Haraldsen, associate professor of physics at the University of North Florida, said riding motorcycles can be more dangerous because a seated rider often is the highest point of the bike.

"If you're in a vehicle, the vehicle will discharge it into the ground through the tires," he said. "But if you're in a motorcycle, you're typically the highest point on the motorcycle and it could hit you."

Large, empty spaces and open stretches of road only make the danger greater, Haraldsen said, because a rider might be the tallest target. At that point, a helmet provides very little protection.

"It will essentially melt the helmet or break the helmet and once it hits your body, it basically travels through your head and then through your chest," he said.

That's why it's imperative for motorcyclists to find shelter as soon as they hear thunder roll. Even the fastest bike is no match for a lightning bolt, which can travel at 300,000 miles an hour.

Jensenius said anyone who can hear thunder overhead is in danger because it can can be heard from about 10 miles away--the same range from which lightning can strike.

"We're trying to prevent every single lightning death we can," said Jensenius, who pointed out that lightning-related deaths have gone down significantly in the past 20 years.

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