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article imageLightning strikes and shark attacks - Risks of going to the beach

By Karen Graham     Aug 2, 2016 in Environment
While the beach is the ideal place to cool off on a hot summer day, it is also one of the worst places imaginable to be during a thunderstorm or when sharks are feeding. Common sense should always reign when at the beach.
"If you are on the beach, chances are that you are also the tallest thing in the immediate area," says John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service. The death of a five-year-old boy hit by lightning while at a beach in North Carolina over the weekend is part of a worrying trend, he adds.
According to Jensenius, people don't react quickly enough to a thunderstorm. Seeing that they don't like being inconvenienced, they tend to wait until the last minute before going inside when a thunderstorm is approaching. He adds that the crashing of the waves makes it sometimes hard to hear thunder.
Lightning deaths in the United States
According to NOAA, lightning fatalities is the second leading cause of death behind floods for deadly weather events. Between 2005 and 2015, there were 313 deaths attributed to lightning in the U.S. During that time period, 18 people (six percent) died because of being hit by lightning at the beach. Fishing was more dangerous, with 33 people (11 percent) being killed.
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NOAA
It's interesting to note that most lightning fatalities occur in the Southeast and Southwest, with Florida having the most deaths over the last 10 years. An average of 49 people are killed each year by lightning, with July being the peak month for lightning fatalities; but actually, June through August, being summer months, are all deadly.
Most lightning events occur while people are engaged in leisure activities, primarily water-related activities. Surprisingly, in the sports-related category, soccer takes the number one spot, not golf β€” behind fishing, of course.
To avoid becoming a lightning fatality, use some common sense. As soon as you hear the rumble of a thunderstorm, go inside a substantial building or get in the car. Picnic shelters beach umbrellas and the like are not safe places to be during a thunderstorm.
Yes, cars or trucks are safe and it has nothing to do with the rubber tires, as some people believe. When lightning strikes an enclosed, hard-top vehicle, the electrical charge flows through the outer metal frame and usually jump over or through the tires to reach the ground.
NOAA also advises us to wait at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard before venturing outside again. Increased awareness of the dangers associated with lightning are responsible for the marked decrease in fatalities since the 1940s, when an average of 200 to 300 people died every year, many of them farmers operating tractors and other farm equipment. Also, CPR and other life-saving technologies have reduced the number of deaths from lightning.
Shark attacks in the United States
The records show that lightning is a far greater killer than sharks, in the U.S., anyway. In 2015, there were 1,104 confirmed shark attacks in the U.S. with 35 deaths.
Sharks attacks per year in the United States
Sharks attacks per year in the United States
Ralph Collier Global Shark Attack File
Shark attacks along the Eastern Seaboard last summer seemed to be greater than usual. There was speculation that with warming ocean waters, brought about by El Nino, the sharks were migrating further north and more people were going in the water because of the unusual heat.
The number of attacks in 2015, particularly in North Carolina, is unusual, but nationwide it’s not exceptional when compared to the early 2000s and 2012. Added to this is the kind of sharks being encountered along the Atlantic Coast. Bull, tiger and black tip sharks, make up most of the species of sharks seen along the East Coast. They tend to come close to shore to feed in shallower waters where they are more apt to interact with humans.
There is no reason not to enjoy your trip to the beach, though. Just use common sense and pay attention to posted warnings. And when it comes to lightning, the National Weather Service has the best advice: when thunder roars, go indoors!
More about Lightning strike, Shark Attack, at the beach, Odds, National weather service
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