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LIGHTNING!

Steamy days, rainy afternoons and warm nights mean summer is here. But they aren't the only constants this time of year.

Lightning, stingrays, sunburn, riptides and other dangers are part of the long, hot summer season in Florida. To help readers safely cope with the elements, we offer the first in a series of summer survival guides.

LIGHTNING!

It's lightning season in Florida, bringing spectacular summer sky shows and considerable danger. A single bolt can reach 50,000 degress Fahrenheit and travel 422-million feet per second. About 100 thunderstorms rumble through the Tampa Bay area each year.

How it happens

Lightning is caused by the natural attraction of opposite electrical charges between the cloud and the ground. The bottom of the cloud has negative impulses. Earth is usually negatively charged, too. But thunderclouds are followed on the ground by positively charged electrical shadows. When a negative impulse from a cloud meets a positive streamer given off by its shadow, lightning results.

The dangers

_ Florida is the U.S. lightning capital. About 10 percent of the nearly 3,000 people who have died from lightning strikes since 1959 were killed in Florida.

_ The bay area has accounted for about 16 percent of the deaths in Florida since 1959.

_ July is the worst month for lightning strikes in Florida: One in four people were hit then.

_ Twenty-seven percent of people killed by lightning are hit in open areas such as ballfields, parks and golf courses.

Safety tips

_ If a storm approaches, seek shelter in a home or large building. Cars offer good protection.

_ Avoid open areas.

_ If you're caught in an open field, drop to your knees, lean forward and crouch with your hands on your knees. Do not lie down or put your hands on the ground.

_ Stay off the telephone and out of the shower during a storm. Stay away from open windows or doorways and televisions. Do not use appliances.

Sources: Times wires, National Weather Service, Storm

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