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Lightning in SWFL: Do we need more lightning detection systems on beaches?

Posted at 6:54 AM, Feb 08, 2022

SANIBEL, Fla. — It's Severe Weather Awareness Week and the focus for Monday is lightning. Lightning sirens give us a little warning, but some of our most popular beach locations aren't equipped with them.

In 2021, three people died in Florida from lightning strikes and two happened on our beaches in Southwest Florida.

17-year-old Walker Bethune and 41-year-old Brent Jerome were vacationing with family last summer when separate lightning strikes killed both of them.

“People always say lightning in Florida needs to be taken seriously and that’s true," said Steve Vela with Sanibel Parks and Recreation.

Vela said some vacationers might not be quick to react when those storms roll in because they’re not used to it.

“When I moved here from Seattle, you can take your time, you could be a little more passive about it but that changes when you come down here.”

Vela said the parks and recreation center has lightning sirens in place to warn their visitors. One big question is why don’t we have more on our beaches?

I reached out to county leaders in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties to see where their lightning detection systems are located.

County leaders didn’t explain why we don’t have more sirens on our beaches.

However, Daniel Christenbury with Collier County Parks and Recreation said they have at least four sirens located at the Naples Pier, Lowdermilk Park, Marco Island South Beach Access and Tigetail Beach. He mentioned the county also has plans to add more at Clam Pass Park, Barefoot Beach, and Vanderbilt Beach.

Communication Directors with Lee and Charolette Counties said they have them at public parks and pools, but couldn’t name any on public beaches.

Vela said one way to protect yourself is to pay close attention to the weather around you, and don't take building storm clouds lightly.

The City of Sanibel currently uses something called the Thor Guard System, and Vela mentioned it comes with an app that people can access anytime.

"It will show you the weather and it will tell you the clear, caution, and warning or red alert.”