WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Two people were injured by lightning strikes on Aug. 6 in Walton County. One was swimming at Morrison Springs as a pop-up thunderstorm rolled in, the second a sheriff deputy when lightning struck his patrol car.
More than 100 people watched a teen girl get pulled from the water after being reportedly struck by lightning.
“They were like, ‘call 911’ and then we saw her like face down in the water,” said Shannon Bettinger from Ohio.
The Bettinger family visiting on vacation said the girl was on a float in the middle of the spring as the storm rolled in. After a loud cracking noise and flash of light, it all changed.
“Everybody kind of got the hint after that second crack of lightning and it started to downpour that we should all get out of the water,” said Bettinger. “Which was a good thing, because I don’t think anybody would have seen her having stayed in the water.”
The float popped and the girl was unconscious. Paddleboarders brought the girl to shore. The Sheriff’s Office said the med flight team took the girl to the hospital for treatment.
Meteorologist Ross Whitley said the girl is lucky to be alive.
“Considering she’s not dead, it’s quite possible that maybe she got a streamer off of the bolt instead of the main bolt, but it did knock her unconscious, so maybe she’s just one of the rare lucky cases that she survived,” said Whitley.
Southwest of Morrison Springs that same day, lightning struck the patrol car of Walton County Deputy Kenneth Vail on Highway 331.
The sheriff’s office said the car is totaled from the damage and the strike fried his entire electrical system.
Whitley said being struck while in a moving car is extremely rare.
“I mean, it’s no other way to put it but a miracle that she survived, he was a little more likely being inside the vehicle, but to get struck by lightning in a moving vehicle is really, really low,” said Whitley.
Whitley said in most cases, a car is a safe place during a storm.
“Basically, the lightning strikes the vehicle and then goes all around the vehicle. And yeah, you can get some residual zap, but it’s not going to kill you because most of the voltage is going to go through the system of the car and down into the tires and then ground,” said Whitley. “You’re in a metal cage, but the odds of you being struck by lightning inside of a vehicle are very low.”
Deputy Vail is taking it day by day with the recovery, thankful to still be around.
The Bettinger family takes lessons away from the near tragedy.
“If you hear that thunder even if you don’t see lightning, just get out of the water,” said Bettinger.
Both the teen and Vail are expected to recover.
Whitley says a key phrase to remember is “When thunder roars- go indoors.”