SCIENCE IN THE NEWS: Lifeguard killed by lightning strike on Jersey Shore beach.

It’s been a tragic summer so far when it comes to lightning strikes. On Monday, a lifeguard was killed and seven other people were injured when lightning struck a Jersey Shore beach in Berkeley Township. Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy said the others were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

It was the second lifeguard fatality in recent days.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made a statement via Twitter,

Lightning is an electrostatic discharge.  It occurs when two electrically charged regions in the atmosphere or one in the atmosphere and one on the ground temporarily equalize themselves, causing the massive release of energy.

According to Wikipedia, “This discharge may produce a wide range of electromagnetic radiation, from heat created by the rapid movement of electrons, to brilliant flashes of visible light in the form of black-body radiation. Lightning causes thunder, a sound from the shock wave which develops as gases in the vicinity of the discharge experience a sudden increase in pressure. Lightning occurs commonly during thunderstorms as well as other types of energetic weather systems, but volcanic lightning can also occur during volcanic eruptions.”

There are three main kinds of lightning.  They are categorized by their location – inside a single cloud, between two different clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. 

Lightning is a leading cause of weather-related fatalities. The odds of being struck by lightning hovers around 1 in 500,000. Although lightning affects all regions in the United States, the southeastern states are most at risk. 

According to the CDC, “Lightning generally decreases from the southeast to the northwest, except for a few places such as the Rocky Mountains, where topography causes regular thunderstorms during the summer. Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas have the most lightning deaths and injuries. Florida is considered the ‘lightning capital’ of the country, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries over the past 50 years.”

Lightning casualties are highest during summer with July being the month with the most lightning. Strikes often occur in the afternoon. Specificially, two-thirds of all lightning casualties occur between noon and 6pm.

FEMA estimates that about 300 people are injured each year due to lightning.

On August 12, a 13 year-old boy was killed by a lighting strike while playing on Orchard Beach in the Bronx.

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