POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — “They’re gone now, just, like, in a flash,” said Neil Combee, a Polk County commissioner and cattle rancher.
Combee was on his tractor mowing on his ranch north of Lakeland Sunday afternoon when he noticed a storm coming from the east.
As his mother taught him to do since a young age, Combee found shelter.
“It was so huge,” said Combee, describing a loud clap of thunder. “An explosion is what it was. It sounded like a bomb going off here.”
Later, his son broke some bad news to him about his horses.
“He’s like well, ‘they’re out here. Lightning got them and they’re dead’ and I’m like, ‘oh Lord,’” Combee recalled.
Combee said three of his horses died. One named Bunny was just 4 years old. A fourth horse was badly injured.
“We’re just kind of waiting to see because there’s not a lot to do for her, some anti-inflammatory and wait and see because there could be some internal damage there,” said Combee.
The horses were part of a bloodline linked to Combee’s family that goes back decades.
“It’s something we’ve had in the family, it goes back to a horse my dad bought as a 2-year old off a trailer full of horses,” said Combee.
One horse was the daughter of a world champion Freckles Playboy.
Combee hopes the horses’ deaths can serve as a warning to people about the dangers of lightning.
“One time with that positive bolt and it’s all over,” he said.
Combee is certain it was a “positive bolt” that killed his horses.
Positive lightning originates from the top of the cloud, unlike negative lightning which starts at the bottom, as Max Defender 8 meteorologist Eric Stone explained.
“So tens of thousands of feet up in the atmosphere. It travels a longer distance and it can be several times more powerful,” Eric said.
According to Eric, both positive and negative lightning can be deadly to animals and humans if they’re directly hit.
Max Defender 8 radar can detect thousands of lightning strikes in the Tampa Bay area in just a few minutes.
“Summer months, lightning is prevalent and something we always have to be cognizant of,” said Eric.
While it is best to go indoors during a thunderstorm, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of lightning strike injuries occur inside. The CDC advises people to avoid using water indoors during a storm and to not touch electronic equipment.