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Florida leads nation with most lightning deaths in 2021

When thunder roars...

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The United States recorded the fewest number of lightning strike deaths in 2021 compared to the previous 15 years; however, Florida led the nation in fatalities, data shows.

There were 11 lightning-related fatalities across the country, with four in Florida, two in New Jersey and one each in California, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the National Lightning Safety Council. The reported figure is below the 16 deaths recorded in 2017 and well off from the 48 fatalities in 2006.

Each of Florida's fatalities involved a man or boy during the summertime along the state's Gulf Coast counties:

  • Walker Bethune, 17, died July 17 at the beach on Marco Island.
  • Brent Jerome, 41, died July 24 at the beach on Sanibel Island.
  • Don Drew, 59, died Aug. 25 while golfing in St. Petersburg.
  • Jesus Olvera-Aguilar, 19, died while working on a roof in Lakewood Ranch.

It's believed the record low for lightning deaths nationwide could be because of better awareness of thunderstorms and the dangers they bring or, perhaps, more people opted to stay indoors because of the ongoing pandemic, according to The Washington Post.

Vaisala, a Finnish environmental monitoring company, recently ranked Texas No. 1 in the U.S. in terms of total lightning count in 2021 — 41,914,516 strikes. Florida was a faraway second at 14,645,013 strikes but ranked No. 1 when considering the total lightning density. 

Texas is a big state and experiences many lighting strikes, but it ranks No. 3 when accounting for area.

Vaisala also found Florida had 233 total lightning events per square mile in 2021, more than any other state.