TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Charlie Crist proclaimed Feb. 2-9 as an expanded “Hazardous Weather Awareness Week” in Florida.
The purpose of the week is to educate residents on topics, such as lightning, tornadoes, floods and rip currents.
“Florida is a great place to live, work and play, “Crist said in a press release. “With this beautiful place comes a personal responsibility for each of us to be prepared for the hazards that affect our state.”
This year’s theme is “8 days in ‘08” and brings special attention to the Groundhog Day tornadoes that struck Sumter, Lake and Volusia counties, killing 21 people, during the night of Feb. 2, 2007.
“After the deadly tornadoes and wildfires last year, we heard from survivors who said; ‘I only had minutes to act, and wished I’d been better prepared, planned ahead, and followed the warnings,’” State Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said. “This week we want all Floridians to understand the weather hazards they face and to get a plan to be prepared.”
Hazardous Weather Awareness Week is a chance for Floridians to learn about the various weather hazards that frequently impact the state and how families and businesses can prepare for these natural events.
Each weekday focuses on a specific weather event.
Monday, Feb. 4: Lightning Tuesday, Feb. 5: Marine Hazards and Rip Currents Wednesday, Feb. 6: Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Thursday, Feb. 7: Hurricanes and Flooding Friday, Feb. 8: Temperature Extremes and Wildfires
Lightning is among the top weather-related killers across the United States, striking the ground about 25 million times each year and causing more injury and death than tornadoes.
“The 2008 Florida Hazardous Weather Awareness Week is a perfect time to note that our state, out of all 50 states, is the lightning capital of the country,” Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service, Key West, writes in a special weather awareness week publication.
Florida is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. As a result, daytime heating often generates boundaries that move inland from each of the coasts during the day. When these boundaries collide, thunderstorms are the result.
As the No. 1 thunderstorm threat in Florida, lightning results in an average of 10 fatalities and 40 injuries each year. Ten people in Florida died from lightning strikes in 2007.
Nearly half of all lightning deaths occur in open areas. Many people are struck when they go under a tree to keep dry during a storm. Outdoor water activities such as swimming, boating and fishing are very dangerous during lightning.
Many people don’t know that a lightning strike to the ground or water can travel horizontally more than 30 feet in all directions and has been known to strike as much as 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.
“When thunderstorms are approaching, avoid outdoor activities as if your life depends on it –because it does,” Rizzo said.
The National Weather Service promotes the “30-30 Rule” in seeking safe shelter.
“When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If this time is 30 seconds or less, go immediately to a safer place. Wait 30 minutes or more after hearing the last clap of thunder before leaving your shelter.”
This rule works best when a thunderstorm is approaching an area, Rizzo said. He also advises people to be alert to changes in sky conditions.
A darkening cloud is often the first sign that lightning may strike. As soon as you see lightning or hear thunder, it is best to seek shelter in a substantial building such as a home, and do not be tempted to watch lightning from open windows or doors.
Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 22 - 28, 2008 and more information about lightning hazards and what you can do to protect yourself and others can be found at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
Tuesday’s focus will be marine hazards and rip currents.