Deadly lightning strike: NWS meteorologist explains dangers of beaches during a storm

Jeff Smith Image
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
NWS meteorologist explains dangers of beaches during a storm
An expert explains why the beach is such a dangerous place to be during storms and offers advice to follow.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Monday marked the second time this month that lightning proved deadly at one of our local beaches.

This time, the victim was Keith Pinto, a 19-year-old lifeguard at South Seaside Park, New Jersey. Back on August 12, a 13-year-old boy was killed by lightning at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.

So what is it that makes a beach so dangerous during a thunderstorm? We talked to National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan O'Brien.

"A couple of different factors coming together, one is the nature of the beach itself, it's an exposed area," O'Brien said. "If you are outside on the beach when a storm comes through, you are at a higher risk of being struck, just by that alone. The other thing is, beaches this time of year tend to be very crowded."

The same heat and humidity that makes for a crowded beach can also quickly pop up thunderstorms, like the ones that hit the Jersey Shore on Monday.

"You had a case like yesterday where the bulk of that storm, where the lightning strike occurred still hadn't really made it to Seaside yet," O'Brien said. "It was close, but the bulk of the storm was still a little off to the west and the south. It may not have been raining at all yet."

Indeed, the radar from 4:30 yesterday afternoon showed the fatal lightning strike at South Seaside Park occurring four miles ahead of the storm. That's why you need to seek shelter upon the first sign of impending weather. You may not have much time.

"If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning," O'Brien said.

And you might not hear those first rumbles amongst the sound of waves and wind at the beach, so you should also keep an eye to the sky and head inside if it appears dark or threatening.

"You want to take shelter anywhere inside, whether that be in a building, whether it be in a vehicle, you know if you're coming off the beach, make a dash to your car," O'Brien said. "Sit in your car, wait it out. The last place that you want to be is outside."

The advice is simple: When thunder roars, head indoors.


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