44 Army Rangers struck by lightning in Florida - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

44 Army Rangers struck by lightning in Florida

(CNN) -- When lightning struck 44 Army Rangers this week in Florida, leaving 11 in the hospital, jaws must have dropped. What are the odds of that?

The answer: Very low in many places, but not so low in Florida.

The rough chance of being bolted by lightning in a lifetime is about 1 in 12,000, but the odds discriminate by region.

Lightning is not partial to touching down on the West Coast, but it loves the South, particularly Florida, NASA says. Local researchers concur. "Florida ranks No. 1 in the number of deaths due to lightning," says the University of Florida.

Rangers' lightning exercise

But before we get to that, let's recap what happened to the Rangers:

Ironically, they were training near Eglin Air Force Base outside of Pensacola on how to avoid being injured by lightning, or "conducting lightning protection protocols," when they were electrified. The group had completed six of the 10 days in their training program, when it happened.

Originally seventeen were hospitalized, and late Wednesday, 11 of them -- nine students and two instructors -- were still in hospital.

Up to 75 times higher

Obviously, where there are many more storms, there will be much more lightning, but the difference in the number of strikes is stark. In the hottest spots in South Florida, lightning strikes up to 75 times more often than on the opposite corner of the country.

A quick glance at local Florida news reports turns up plenty of examples. This month, lightning strikes were blamed for at least two house fires and a grass fire, and killed one man in the south of the state -- all in a single day.

Last month, lightning struck three people on a beach, was blamed in reports for at least two house fires, injured a teen standing on a roof and knocked out the scoreboard at a baseball field.

You don't find that kind of action in Portland, Oregon.

Lightning season

Where the Rangers were training is not in the worst strike zone in the state, but it's still bad. Near there on the Alabama coast, a 12-year-old girl was reportedly killed last month by lightning.

Also, the time of year matters. Florida is in the middle of lightning season, as the University of Florida calls it. It lasts from late May through late September.

Lightning kills on average about 100 people nationwide and injures about another 600, the university says. "Lightning kills more people in the U.S. than hurricanes and tornadoes combined."

A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago places the number killed annually in the country as high as 300 and the number injured as high as 1,500. Flooding is the only weather danger that kills more people, the study says.

With global warming on the rise, NASA warns that lightning strikes are climbing too, along with the increase in the number of strong storms.

CNN's Theodore Schleifer contributed to this report.

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