Monday, June 27, 2011

Serenova Tract Thunderstorm

Driving through the lightning and thunder with ominous black clouds above, I started to think that maybe I was a bit crazy.  As much as I love to watch the lights dance in the clouds before the sun rises, I questioned my sanity, and not to mention safety.  How safe is running in a forest alone, rambling around various bodies of water in a central Florida thunderstorm stretching as far as the eye can see?  I'll be fine, I convinced myself.  This is worth it.

Pulling into the small parking area, I was glad to see that multiple people were already in the park. 

"Ya got bug dope on ya?"  A middle aged hiker with a walking stick asked me as we entered the trailhead at about the same time.  I did, and we agreed that the deer flies can be a pain.  Although I would not come upon many pesky insects because they well aware of the storm on its way.

Down the shaded path, I passed two birders in canvas hats, fishermen contently sitting on their coolers, and the man with the walking stick.  J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park would be deserted in this sort of weather.  Well, I'm glad to be in the company of other crazy people, I thought. 

I made my way down a few dead end trails, stumbled upon an old anachronic parking lot like surface, and discovered a hidden little lake blanketed in lily pads that I long to paint.   Following a crushed shell road deeper into the park, the rain beating down heavier, and Serenova opened up.  I could see the silhouette of cypress domes against the sky as it grew progressively darker.  Knowing Starkey, I assumed the paths were a series of loops, so when I trail crossed the road, I took it.  It directed me east, further away from the road and then south, further from the trailhead.  I kept my eye on the power lines, my key to judging distance at Starkey, and continued on.  About a mile later, I crossed the road again.  Thunder boomed over me.  The storm was no longer close, it was here.  I picked up the pace and headed down the road, back to the lot the shortest way I knew.

When I returned, the fishermen were packing up and the birders were long gone.  If they were going in, I guessed I should follow.  As I unlaced my sand caked Brooks and changed out of my soaked shirt, I decided that I had to come back another day soon.  Clearly the lightning gods wanted me around for a bit longer.

Now, I was curious about storms and Florida.  I knew that in Florida, the Sunshine State and also the Lightning Capital of the United States, most lightning strikes occur in June, July, and August, our rainy season.  Despite listening to Dennis Philips clad in his trademark suspenders every so often, that was about the extent of my knowledge of Florida lightning statistics.  I decided to do some research for myself:

West central Florida has around 90-100 thunderstorm days in a year, higher than any other area of Florida.   Lightning accounts for well over 50 percent of weather related deaths in Florida.  You would think that hurricanes may top the list of dangers, but our thunderstorms prove to be most deadly.  "Lightning Alley" was new term for me.  This corridor from Tampa Bay to Titusville receives the most lightning strikes in the United States on an annual basis. 

"Past history has shown that many people struck by lightning in Florida were near water, in an exposed location, or under/near trees."  Three for three?  Okay, maybe I was a bit crazy.

Statistics from NOAA.

To learn more about this great park, I recommend a short YouTube video and the SWFWMD Serenova Tract webpage.

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