Sunday, August 02, 2009

Questioning Bolts from the blue

While I found Jason Kaufman’s recent article about safety precautions during lightning storms to be informative and enlightening, I remember reading somewhere years ago, that one of every 17 lightning strikes in the United States occurs on a golf course. I wonder if that statistic has remained static.

What else would account for so many lightning strikes in Florida compared to Idaho? They have more golf courses there, and theirs are open year-round. The weather is warmer, so Floridians are probably outdoors more often. They probably even have more attractive metal than we do.

On the other hand, for the decades surveyed in this report, Florida has had a consistently higher population density per square mile than Idaho has. For instance, the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau results show Florida with 296.4 people per square mile. Whereas Idaho had 15.6 people per square mile, this gave Florida lightning bolts a nearly twenty times larger probability of striking people. Moreover, since Florida has suffered 455 lightning fatalities in the past fifty years, compared to Idaho's 26, this gives us a nearly identical ratio. With this in mind, I'm not sure that Idahoans are any more lightning-bolt resistant than Floridians are.

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