Rare California lightning storm leaves one man dead, a dozen injured


One person was killed and 13 others were injured after a lightning strike at Venice Beach, Ca. on Sunday, during an episode of rare July thunderstorms. Witnesses told the L.A. Times, “there was no warning at all.”

Reports the Post’s Morning Mix:

Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Katherine Main told The Washington Post that during a thunderstorm witnesses heard a loud thunder clap and saw lightning strike Venice Beach.

People who were there said, “It sounded like a sonic boom” and “The whole place shook.” One said, “We got zapped” and another claimed, “My hair was standing up.”

A chance of thunderstorms was forecast in the affected region Sunday.  But people in southern California likely don’t think to check for stormy weather in the middle of summer given its rarity. According to the L.A. Times, the National Weather Service in Los Angeles issued a statement warning that storms could produce “deadly lightning” prior to the storms.  An hour after that bulletin was issued, the NWS advised people to head indoors if they heard thunder.

The L.A. Times also reported that witnesses saw lightning to the south in the vicinity of the LAX airport about 30 minutes before lightning struck Venice Beach.

Strong storms move through southern California on Sunday. (Weather Underground radar modified by CWG)

Strong storms move through the Los Angeles area on Sunday afternoon. (Weather Underground radar modified by CWG)

Coastal thunderstorms are uncommon in California, and even more uncommon in the month of July. The atmosphere tends to be very stable along the coast, decreasing the likelihood of storms. This storm, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Nick Wiltgen, was not only rare for its lightning, but also its torrential rain. “Sunday’s storm dumped as much rain in one hour as had fallen in the previous 10 Julys,” Wiltgen said. “310 days’ worth of rain, combined.”

This was the only lightning death in California so far this year. Since 2005, only five people have died from lightning strikes in California, and most of those deaths occurred well inland in the northern Sierra Mountains. Only one other person has died from lightning in southern California in that time span, a woman in Fontana, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, who was walking to the bus in 2009. She happened to be under a tree when lightning struck.

Nationwide, an average of 33 people die from lightning strikes each year. So far in 2014, 16 people have died, including the Venice Beach victim.

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