TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Late in the winter every year, Florida observes Severe Weather Awareness week, and meteorologists will offer tips for dealing with different hazards seen or felt in the Sunshine State.
We’ll focus on a new topic on each day this week. The first one is lightning.
Florida is the lightning capital of the United States. In 2022, there were more than 285 lightning events recorded per square mile.
When looked at by region, Central and Southwest Florida see the most strikes on average, partly due to the afternoon thunderstorms sparked by daily sea breezes.
Locally, Pinellas County typically sees the fewest lightning events—about 52.5 events per square kilometer each year. Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties double that number with 104-119 events per square kilometer each year. Polk County comes in with the highest amount of strikes on average, almost 150 events per square kilometer, according to Vaisala data.
The number one thing to remember when it comes to safety is that lightning can strike 10 miles away from the nearest raindrop. There could be sunny skies with a thunderstorm 10 miles away, and you could still be struck. A good rule of thumb is that if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to being hit by lightning.
If you do hear thunder or see a storm building in the distance, stop swimming and all outdoor activities. Seek shelter as quickly as possible and once inside, stay away from windows and electronics.