Two people were killed off the coast of Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Sunday night after they were struck by lightning while riding jet skis, according to the National Weather Service.
The lightning first struck and immediately killed a 36-year-old man who was driving a jet ski before traveling to another nearby jet ski and hitting a 26-year-old woman riding as a passenger. The woman died shortly after being carried to shore, according to The Associated Press. The driver of the second jet ski was reportedly unharmed.
A third person was injured in the strike, according to local Puerto Rican news site Metro, but it’s unclear which jet ski they were on. After the injury, the person was transported to a nearby hospital.
These two deaths bring the total lightning fatalities in the United States this year to 17, according to Lightning Safety Specialist John Jensenius. Based on the past 10 years of data, he said, the U.S. averages about 21 lightning deaths through Sept. 4. These are the first lightning-related deaths in Puerto Rico since 2017 and the 20th and 21st boating-related lightning fatalities since 2006 in Puerto Rico, according to the National Lightning Safety Council. Of those 21, eight deaths involved jet skis.
The deaths happened on the south side of Puerto Rico at the same time as Tropical Storm Earl tracked up the northeastern side of the island.
“Puerto Rico did get some rain and thunderstorms from Tropical Storm Earl,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said. “Earl is moving north-northwest away from Puerto Rico, but there can be lingering showers and thunderstorms across the island into Tuesday. Lightning is not particularly common in tropical systems, but it can occur.”
Strong vertical winds causing water and ice to rub together is the way electrical charge is created in thunderstorms, and it’s not as common in tropical systems, Duff said. She said most deaths in tropical systems occur from flooding, either freshwater floods or as a result of a storm surge.
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