Lightning Perils in Central Florida and on the Rainbow River
Myths and Tips
People harbor many myths about lightning that leave them feeling immune from the perils of lightning.
A nonchalant attitude is constantly evidenced by locals and visitors alike enjoying extended hours of recreation while swimming and diving, and in boats, pontoons, canoes, kayaks and floats on the Rainbow River.
They are clearly not aware of the fact that FLORIDA is the #1 state (in the United States) that is most often struck by lightening; and that CENTRAL FLORIDA in particular is a major lightning corridor.
In hot weather there are many daily (sometimes torrential) thunderstorms accompanied by lightning in and around the City of Dunnellon and most of Central Florida. People on the Rainbow River often get caught in these sudden storms, leaving them (and their small children) vulnerable when they find themselves at a considerable distance from their designated take-out locations. They all hunker down and paddle on because, well, that is pretty much all they can do at the moment. "After all, we are already wet, right" many say to locals watching their progress.
Most people think they are safe in their aluminum or rotomolded kayaks and canoes. They also think that the tall trees lining the river banks will take any lightning hits.
Indeed, they know all the myths: that people are poor lightning conductors; that water is a poor conductor of electricity; that rubber-soled shoes are very protective; that lightning follows the most direct path to the ground; that lightning never strikes twice - and so on. NOT!
According to the executive director of the Lighting Protection Institute, Bud VanSickle, these people are in grave danger. When asked recently about the common scenario described above he said this:
Nearly everyone on the Rainbow River during a storm says “no big deal” - "not to worry" - "it has never happened here" -OR- “these storms are just a pain in the you-know-what."
BUT THESE ARE THE FACTS
01. A moving thunderstorm gathers positively charged particles along the ground that travel with the storm. As the differences in charges continue to increase, positively charged particles rise up tall objects such as trees, houses, and telephone poles—and people.
02. Since light travels faster than sound, the thunder is heard after the lightning. If you see lightning and hear thunder at the same time, that lightning is nearby. If you see successive strokes of lightning in the same place on the horizon then you are in line with the storm, and it may be moving toward you.
05. Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occur during the summer months, when the combination of hot weather, lightning and outdoor activities reaches a peak.
09. Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.
10. If trapped outside, and you get up on the bank of the river, lying flat on the ground increases your chances of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. Don’t crouch, either. The National Weather Service stopped recommending the crouch in 2008 because the data just doesn’t support it. You need to keep moving toward a secure building.
11. The National Weather Service recommends monitoring local weather forecasts and canceling outdoor activities that might put you at risk.
SUMMERTIME RIVER USAGE TIPS:
01. Be prepared to exit the river quickly when a storm pops up. If you can hear thunder, lightning is already present whether you can see it or not.
02. Install a reliable weather app on your phone and keep your phone with you at all times.
03. Consider coming to the Rainbow River early in the day and leaving by noon to avoid the possibility of getting caught in an afternoon storm. Even then, check the Weather forecast for the Dunnellon area before you venture out. Sudden storms do sometimes pop up earlier in the day than expected.
04. While you are on the river, stay within a prescribed radius of where your car is parked so that you can get yourself bck to that location as quickly as possible. Avoid paddling the entire length of the river during summer storm season, necessitating a long and sometimes arduous turn-around time to get back to the safety of your car in the event of a sudden storm.
05. Don't assume it will be a 'short shower' when it starts to rain. A sudden storm in Central Florida may be short-lived, yes, but it can also be dangerous, with torrential rain as well as thunder and lightning. Start moving toward your designated take-out location when you hear and see the first signs of a pending storm, including ominous cloud formations.
06. There are no safe places along the river to hide when a storm erupts. The worst thing you can do is tie up under an over-hanging tree to wait out the storm. KEEP MOVING as quickly as possible to your designated take out location and close any umbrellas you may have with you. It goes without saying that any young children with you should be wearing life jackets.
07. Have an agreed-upon EXIT plan in place if your river-going group is large. And make sure everyone knows NOAA's life-saving ditty:
WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO INDOORS
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