Summer storms a reminder to stay safe during lightning

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MANATEE COUNTY - A Bradenton woman and her two kids are safe after she says they were nearly struck by lightning early Monday morning. It's serving as a reminder to everybody of the dangers lightning can pose during the summer months.

Florida is the lightning capital of North America. There are more lightning strikes registered in this state than anywhere else. But experts say there are things you need to know that could save your life during a lightning storm; and seeing lightning with your eyes may not be your best line of defense.

"If you're close enough to hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning." National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Flemming says lightning storms are something many Floridians take for granted. "Florida sees about a million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes a year."

Each year about five people in Florida are killed by lightning. But already this year, three people have died.

Flemming says when a storm hits, running for cover should be priority number one. “Seek shelter inside, either a house or a car. Usually you don't want to be under a tree or an open air picnic shelter; that can be even more dangerous."

The good news is that only one in ten people who get struck by lightning are killed. The bad news is they can suffer severe injuries. "The injuries can range from a variety of things; you have a direct strike which would obviously have an entry and an exit point, that can have significant burns, significant blowout effects," says Toney Dunham with the Sarasota Fire Department.

Emergency responders say if you're with someone who gets struck by lightning, call 911 and try to provide any help you can. "Remember that the patient doesn't carry an electrical charge once they've been hit with lightning, so basically it’s just supportive care until EMS arrives," says Dunham.

So as we approach the summer months when storms can appear out of nowhere, remember to trust your ears before your eyes. “Bottom line is, when thunder roars, go indoors," says Flemming.

If you get stranded away from safe shelter during a storm, authorities suggest you assume what they call the “lightning crouch”, where you ball up and stay as low to the ground as possible, and to not spread flat out on the ground.

Experts say it's important to always plan ahead. These days smart phones can show you radar, including the ABC 7 weather app.