Florida overwhelmingly leads the nation in lightning strikes

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. -- After a lightning bolt struck an airplane in Fort Myers recently, it sent a shock through an airline worker, knocking him to the ground.

He's still recovering from third-degree burns. 

Last Friday, two adults were struck near Cape Canaveral, one of whom later died.

Lightning can strike anywhere, but Florida -- the "lightning capital" -- is particularly prone, says Amitabh Nag, a scientist at the Florida Institute of Technology.

"So one thing we know about Florida it is hot and humid -- and it is precisely this reason why we have a lot of lightning," Nag said. 

Florida's geography also puts it in the bullseye. Two warm bodies of water surround it, and that sea breeze brings hot air inland, where it rises to form towering thunderclouds. 

The Sunshine State overwhelmingly leads the nation in the number of lightning strikes, and also deaths: 52 since 2007, and five this year already. 

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Florida is the deadliest state for lightning strikes, with 52 deaths since 2007 and five this year alone.

CBS News

"So in order to be careful and protect ourselves from lightning, what we need to do is as soon as we see a thunderstorm, or we hear thunder, we should try to seek shelter," Nag said.

Deerfield Beach Ocean Rescue chief Mike Brown tells that to beachgoers, especially after his own close call with a strike that hit within a mile of him.

"It was literally a boom and just the pressure -- I was on the ground -- it kind of took your breath away," Brown said. 

In 2007, lightning struck and killed a scuba diver here. One thing Brown has learned in his 20 years working the beach, the worst strikes can happen at the beginning or end of a storm.

"It looks like the sun is coming out and it's clearing and then, boom, we'll get one last strike," Brown said. 

The National Weather Service says the odds of being struck by lightning are about 1 in a million. Friday was one of those rare days without an afternoon thunderstorm in this part of south Florida, but the peak season for strikes goes through August.