Lightning fatalities so far this season are highest since 2001

Five people have died as a result of lightning strikes so far in 2016, the highest number so early in the year since 2001.

Lightning killed two people in both Florida and Louisiana and one person in Florida by the end of April, according to Lightning Safety Specialist John Jensenius of the National Weather Service.

"Every lightning fatality is a concern," Jensenius said. "While we do see fluctuations in fatalities from year to year, the fact that we've seen so many so early in the season this year is a concern."

The last time there were as many lightning fatalities so early in the year was between January to April of 2001, when seven people were killed, Jensenius said. This year's rate for the same period is much higher than average. In comparison, one lightning fatality on average has occurred since 2006 during the span of January to April.

The fatalities so far this year occurred while people were outside doing typical outdoor activities including picnicking, yard or construction work, attending a music festival or horse riding, he said.

More thunderstorms, along with a higher incidence of lightning deaths, occur in May, June and July, because of a changing atmosphere coming out of winter and more people going outside for activities, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Matt Rinde said.

"It's the time for the best imbalance of the atmosphere across the nation where it is still relatively cool aloft coming out of the winter and considerably warmer at the surface faster," Rinde said. "Usually this diminishes somewhat by later July."

While the fatalities are much easier to track, lightning injuries are also a major concern, Jensenius said.

It is not only an emotional burden to a family but also can devastate the family's financial resources, especially if the victim contributed significantly to the family income, Jensenius said.

"As a general rule of thumb, there are about nine injuries for every fatality, some with very long-term consequences," he said.

"Unlike many other weather injuries, lightning injuries can result in devastating long-term neurological problems that can continue for the rest of a victim's life," he added.

Long-term effects include: having difficulty with short-term memory, coding new information and accessing old information, multitasking, distractibility, irritability and personality change, according to the Lightning Injury Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Survivors may also complain of intense headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and other post-concussion symptoms, the program said.

If you are going to be outdoors, know the weather forecast before you head out and have a plan in place if a thunderstorm approaches, AccuWeather Meteorologist Mike Doll said.

"If you hear thunder, you are close enough to be hit by lightning," Doll warned. "However, lightning strikes have been known to occur tens of miles away from a thunderstorm."

Use MinuteCast® to track when thunderstorms will affect your exact location.

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