Lightning is more powerful over oceans

A new study shows lightning over the ocean--such as this strike in 2015 in California--can be much more powerful than that over land.

A new study shows lightning over the ocean–such as this strike in 2015 in California–can be much more powerful than that over land.  (Vern Fisher/The Monterey County Herald via AP)

It’s a popular myth that golfers account for most deaths from lightning strikes. In fact, the Palm Beach Post reports more than three times as many fishermen die from lightning strikes than golfers.

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters in February and recently getting some attention may explain why. Researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology found that lightning strikes over the ocean can be much more powerful than strikes over land.

It’s the first independent study to show what others have long believed, according to a press release. Researchers studied lightning over Florida and its coasts from 2013 to 2015, measuring the peak currents of the strikes.

They found strikes over the ocean carried more charge than those over land. In fact, they estimated that lightning with peak currents of more than 50 kilo amperes is more than twice as likely to occur over the ocean.

This could mean people living on or near the ocean may be at greater risk from lightning. Worth noting: Deaths from lightning strikes in Florida—a state with a whole lot of coastline—regularly outpace those in the rest of the country.