|By Keith Morelli, Tampa Tribune, Fla.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"It's hard to exactly remember," he said. "All I know is for a second I was falling forward, and the next second I was waking up on the bow of the boat."
In between was blackness, 45 minutes of it.
Eldridge and fishing buddy
"We hadn't even gone a mile, going full speed," he said, "when the lightning came down."
Both fishermen were knocked unconscious. The teenager awoke in a pool of his blood; he had cut his chin and eyebrow in the fall.
Baker fared worse, Eldridge recounted this week in a telephone interview from his home in
"I don't know how long he was doing that," Eldridge said. He helped get Baker upright and calmed him down before calling for help. Baker spent the night in a hospital.
Later, they examined the boat and decided the bolt came in through the side and hit Baker.
"He had a scar coming up from his leg to his body," Eldridge said. "It came right up through him."
The pair were among the 49 people injured in lightning strikes in
That number is the same as died from lightning strikes in
Summer is the peak season for lightning, though people are struck year-round. In
Between 1990 and 2003,
Theories about why there are fewer fatal lightning strikes are split. Some credit prevailing weather patterns; others say people have become smarter about keeping out of harm's way.
"Last year the numbers certainly were down," said
The falling number of strikes, he said, "has more to do with drought than anything else.
"Certainly if there is less lightning," he said, "the less likely it is for somebody to be struck. But overall, fewer casualties are the result of awareness. Awareness is a large part of the equation. One of the reasons for the continued drop in fatal lightning strikes is that people are more concerned and are taking actions to protect themselves."
The trend could just as easily and quickly reverse itself, Jensenius said.
"It varies from year to year," he said. "I would expect that once the Southeast gets into a more normal yearly rainfall, we will see the lightning strikes go up."
"The reason we get so many thunderstorms in
"There's a lot of energy in humid air," he said. "And thunderstorms are a way of releasing that energy."
That there have been fewer lightning-strike fatalities in recent years, Dwyer said, is more a result of awareness of the dangers of lightning than fewer strikes.
"I don't think there are fewer lightning strikes," he said. "There is no evidence of any long-term changes in lightning. A more likely explanation is that fewer people are doing outdoor activities. If you want to be struck by lightning, it helps to be outside. There are fewer people doing outdoor activities that may put them in danger.
"The logical explanation," Dwyer said, "is the change in people's behavior. A lot of effort goes into making people aware of the dangers of lightning. It makes a big difference, especially in
Aside from being deadly, lightning causes millions in property damage each year, though those numbers are sliding as well.
Insurance claims for damage caused by lightning across the nation reached a record high in 2008, with insurance companies paying out more than
That year, there were 246,200 claims that averaged more than
Last year, insurance paid
Since 2004, the institute said, the number of paid lightning claims fell nearly 60 percent through the end of 2013. Insurers say the decline likely is because of an increased use of lightning protection systems, technological advances and awareness of lightning safety as well as fewer lightning storms.
Protecting property is one thing, keeping life and limb safe is another, said Jensenius, who stressed getting indoors at the slightest hint of thunder.
If you can hear thunder, he said, you should head inside. A lightning strike can pop as far as 10 miles from a thunderstorm.
"The biggest problem in terms of fatalities is that people wait far too long before getting inside," he said, "and that puts them in dangerous and deadly situations."
The eight people fatally struck in
"Fishing is the No. 1 activity that puts people in danger," Jensenius said. "That's where we see the most fatals. People who are out fishing on a boat, it takes time to get to safety. They have to allow for that amount of time."
Eldridge, the teen struck while fishing in
"I'm back at it," he said. "But, oh yeah, I'm very cautious now."
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