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Beach lightning detection systems worth exploring

July 24, 2014
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The 15th U.S. lightning death of 2014 was recorded here in Lee County Tuesday.

Scott Wilcox, 41, was fatally injured.

Two teens, Zac Latawiec, 14, and Chelsea Gill, 16, were injured in the same strike, Zac critically.

The trio was apparently trying to make their way back to their vehicle in a swiftly moving storm that broke above the shoreline on Fort Myers Beach.

They were visiting from Lehigh Acres.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to them, and to their families.

Florida has earned its reputation as a tropical paradise but the Sunshine State also has its hazards.

Lightning is one of them.

Of the 15 deaths so far this year, six happened in Florida with seven of that national total occurring this month alone.

There are, on average, 50 lightning deaths and 400 injuries in the U.S. annually, according to the National Weather Service, which also reports some 25 million sky-to-ground lightning strikes across the country every year.

With Florida being America's "lightning capital," we get our share.


And tragically.

The National Weather Service also offers some advice, summed up with a succinct cautionary phrase: "When thunder roars, go indoors."

Well enough and agreed, that's good advice, indeed.

But in rainy season where afternoon and early evening showers are the norm, we're often out in the open, on playing fields, at parks, golf courses or beaches when it starts to quickly cloud up.

And it does not even have to be raining for lightning danger to be eminent, or for a lightning strike to kill.

This is why the Fort Myers Beach Public Safety Committee began a year ago to look at lightning detection equipment for the town's populous beaches.

The system the committee has researched includes warning horns to let beachgoers know lightning has been detected in the immediate area so shelter can be sought.

It's a preventative "lifeguard" system of sorts that the Beach's safety committee thinks may have a good practical application.

We think so, too - as does both the School Board of Lee County, which has installed about a dozen systems, and Lee County, which has, to date, installed lightning detection units at nearly two dozen sites, mostly parks and pools, along with a few schools.

We urge the county to consider the safety committee's findings and look to including beaches in any installation target plan.

The beaches are, after all, a countywide draw, particularly in the summer when the seasonal visitors have gone home and we year-rounders spread out to enjoy the sun and the sand.

Beaches are a summer season tourist draw as well and, in terms of the Fort Myers Beach Gulf-front, always in heavy use.

What makes sense for sports fields, schools, pools and parks may well make sense for our beaches.

It's certainly worth exploring.

- Breeze editorial



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