People who don’t live along the Gulf Coast where fall and winter weather together accounts for roughly 16 days out of the year are said to look forward with great expectation to the arrival of summer and with special anticipation of Independence Day. Which sometimes, coincidentally enough, becomes part of the summer celebration of the 4th of July .
Frankly, I’m dubious about this claim regarding enjoyment of summer as a season and especially enjoyment of the 4th of July which falls pretty much smack dab in the middle of that long, grueling, anguished trek here on the Gulf Coast from early-summer-like heat of March to the late-summer-like heat of October. And yet the data all seems to point toward the conclusion that there are some people who actually do spend a great deal of time mapping out how they are going to celebrate Independence Day and somehow transform the 4th of July into a date on the calendar they actually intend to spend mostly outdoors. Clearly these people have never spend an entire year along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, amid all the fun of being out of school and going to the beach and spending time around the lake and watching girls in bikinis and getting the day off from work and attending baseball games and standing in line at amusement parks and waiting with great anticipation for the nighttime skies of July 4th to be artificially relit with the rocket’s red glare of firework bombs bursting in air, it can be very easy to induce temporary amnesia regarding all the unfortunate and unpleasant forms of dangerous weather conditions that can quickly turn Independence Day into a night of tragic dependence upon the knowledge of bystanders to know how to deal with weather-related health emergencies.
Take lightning, for example. The crackle of electricity, the drums of distant thunder and the beautiful light show that transforms the sky into something from a Pink Floyd concert all arrive with a certain amount of summer romance. When viewed from the perspective safety, that is. Unfortunately, the freedom of summer’s warmth means a greater preponderance of potential lightning victims utterly exposed to those bolts of electricity charged to a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun. Baseball fields, beaches, amusement parks and neighborhood parks. All sweet spots to spend the slow hours of July 4th waiting for the nighttime fireworks . But some of you won’t need to wait until Independence Day night to witness fireworks in the sky. A thunderstorm can transform the glaring brilliance of a July 4th afternoon in to a cloak of darkness that more resembles 6:00 PM on Christmas Eve than 2:00 PM on Independence Day.
So here comes a summer storm and the romantic sounds of thunder rolling somewhere in the distance has all of a sudden become the threatening sound of lighting striking within eyesight. It’s the 4th of July and you are exposed to the lightning bolts on an expanse of beach or a park or making your way from EPCOT to Disney Hollywood via water ferry. What do you do?
The first thing you want to do if you are enjoying the 4th of July on the beach or at the lake or in a swimming pool is get out of the water. But you knew that, right? Water and electricity don’t mix, even when the water in question is a great big ocean and the electricity is from the sky. Yeah, you know not to be in the water during an electrical storm, but do you know how soon you should exit the water? I’m guessing you don’t and that guess from a lifetime spent living in a beach town.
Yeah, I’ve seen not just little kids too dumb to know any better sticking around in the Gulf of Mexico as lightning blazes through the sky and the basso profo ndo of the thunder of doom drowns out intimate conversation. But it gets better: I’ve seen the parents of those kids keep enjoying their summer beach fun in the waves as well. Here’s the skinny on lightning safety when you are enjoying Independence Day at the beach: if you can hear thunder, you can get struck . So if you want to make it through the 4th of July long enough to enjoy the only really good thing about this holiday–the fireworks–then you need to get out of the water at the first sound of thunder. Just pretend that the thunder is being made by an enormous Great White Shark that hasn’t had anything to eat since Memorial Day.
Let’s say that you are spending Independence Day at Disney World and you are taking the little-known ferry transport at the back of EPCOT over to Disney Hollywood and the lightning starts kicking up pretty good while you are stuck in the boat. Or, for the sake of a broader demographic, you find yourself in some other means of conveyance across the water over which you have no control. Whether lightning bolts are illuminating the sky above you or whether the only evidence of electrical activity is the sound of thunder, you are risk for being struck. In any situation in which you are celebrating the 4th of July in a boat that you are not captain of, you can still take a little bit of control over whether you will get to watch Independence Day fireworks that night without being a victim of lightning strikes.
For one thing, don’t stand up or in any way make yourself the highest target. If that means bending over with your head between your knees, then take advantage of the short amount of time you are putting your safety in the hands of others. Here’s another tip to keep from becoming a victim of Independence Day thunderstorms while in a boat: keep your hands off any metal parts and store any metal jewelry away from your person. That means removing bracelets, necklaces and barrettes made of metal as well as removing hearing aids with metal parts. Store fishing rods and reels with metal parts far away from you and i f for some reason you happen to be wearing metal cleats on a boat, remove your shoes.
The trick to surviving a 4th of July lightning storm while on a boat on the water lies in doing whatever it takes to reduce the odds of being struck by lightning. And the first step is realizing that the odds of a boat being struck by lightning during the course of any given year are at best 1.2 out of 1000 . If you are celebrating Independence Day by vacationing in Florida and that the means of that celebration includes going out on a boat that has not yet been struck by lighting as of July 4th in that year, the odds of that boat getting struck by lighting triple to 3.3 out of 1,000.
The Founding Fathers could not have been much more shortsighted when they chose the middle of summer in 1776 as the perfect time to declare independence. Clearly they did not stop to give a moment’s thought to the millions of people two centuries later who would be riding rollercoasters, playing a round of golf, going boating and otherwise hitting the great outdoors as a means of celebrating the anniversary of their fateful decision. The middle of summer is prime time for electrical storms across America and if your July 4th plans are part of a summer vacation to Florida, you need to know that by mid-summer it is pretty much a fact of life that a thunderstorm is going to happen somewhere at sometime in that state not only on Independence Day , but every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day.