Many would say, what makes you know so much about the weather? Well, being a private pilot for many years, I have an intimate knowledge of the medium, after all, pilots fly in the weather, and any pilot without a more-than-basic understanding of what effects their travels is not long for this earth. In fact, half of the written pilot’s test for the license is knowledge of the weather. Most pilots have a better understanding of the workings of the amazing forces of meteorology that affect us all than the regular Joe. With that said, it is time for my annual piece on the weather and how it affects the most magical place on Earth!…

After tropical storm, Fay and hurricane Irma finally left central Florida and I saw the destruction it left in its wake, I started thinking back about the many people who visit Walt Disney World and how they seem not to take our weather here very seriously.  The moniker “Sunshine State” is well earned for Florida. Here we have an abundant amount of Sun, mild winters and beautiful nights. I can ride my bike twelve months a year, and for the most part we are rarely home, because of all the outdoor activities (Like going to Walt Disney World!) you can enjoy. But on the other side of the coin, the payment for all of this beautiful weather is the fact that being in a tropical setting, we also are the target for hurricanes, tropical storms and of course thunderstorms. The thunderstorms are the most common violent weather we have here and these are what I would like to talk about.

Now, most people are going to say, “This is nothing but common sense!”   And you are right, just plain common sense would say get out of the storm. But for many years, my wife and I are sometimes astounded by the many guests who just meander around the parks during these storms, some of which are pretty violent!  I realize that when the thunder and lightning begin, the majority will seek shelter and wait them out. For the most part, these thunderstorms here do not last more than a half-hour or forty-five minutes, than the sun comes out and it’s like nothing happened.

The storms here, compared to New Jersey where I used to live are extremely intense with much lightning. When I first moved here, I did not take them seriously at first, but what made me a believer was one day a few years back, during a storm that by Florida standards was not that severe, I was in the garage when a blinding white light and the loudest snap I have ever heard almost threw me to the ground. Lighting struck the top of the house, blew an eighteen-inch square hole in the roof and several electronic appliances bit the dust. The fact that it was raining hard probably prevented a fire, which is what happens to many homes down here when they get struck.  After that, I immediately installed a lightning arrester system, and now have a healthy respect for these storms.

The main point of this article is to make people who visit Walt Disney World and just wander around the World during these storms, many holding umbrellas, which is like saying… “Hey lightning, strike over here!” be aware of just how dangerous it is to do so. Now I realize that people who visit spend a lot of money and have just so much time to see the parks, and they don’t care about a little rain. This is okay there is no lightning or thunder. Remember, if you can hear the thunder, you can be struck! We have such a respect for these storms, just the sound of a rumble will cause us to look around and scan the skies for the dark cloud. We never carry umbrellas because they are just like a lightning rod, and walking around with one and splashing through the puddles is courting disaster.

Some of these storms have as many as 20,000 lightning strikes per HOUR! And during the many storms we have encountered at Walt Disney World, we always see hundreds of guests just walking around during the rain, sloshing through puddles with the lightning flashing around. The Walt Disney Company also has huge respect for the weather. Just observe how many attractions will be shut down during a thunderstorm. Even the Walt Disney World Railroad ceases operation during these storms. All one has to do is look up at the buildings at the World, when you are on the monorail, look for the countless one foot rods that are on top of the roofs, even on the attractions you will find these “Lightning rods”  Going through Disney’s Contemporary Resort on the monorail, you will see them all over the building. That is because of the many lightning hits we get here in Florida. Here are some bits of information on lightning and thunderstorms… 1-Each year in the United States, lightning strikes an average of 300 people. 2- A direct hit by a bolt of lightning kills about 50 people per year. 3-If you live to be 80, your chances are about 1 in 3,000 in being struck. 4- Lightning can strike 25 miles away from the storm. 5- A lightning bolt strikes with a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun. 6- Never us any appliance or CELL PHONES during a storm. 7- Although we possess a vast knowledge about meteorology and thunderstorms, science still does not have all the answers about lightning and even how it is produced. 8- And for guests here at Walt Disney World, the place that receives the most cloud-to-ground lightning in Florida is specifically between Tampa and Orlando. That is the place where lightning is most active.

The best advice, and again, common sense should prevail, is to get out of the rain and into a restaurant, or attraction or even a bathroom until the storm passes. DO NOT use umbrellas! We always don the parkas and try to stay out of the puddles until we get undercover. Also remember, if you visit here from June to the Middle of September, you are in the rainy season and thunderstorms rule. And as much respect as I have for the weatherman, even when they say 20 percent chance of rain, come prepared anyway! I cannot tell you how many times we have heard that forecast and all of a sudden, that bright sunshine turned into a real gully washer.  And some days, they called for a 60 percent chance of rain and not a drop. So just come prepared for rain, and expect that it will thunder and lightning. Please don’t tempt fate and walk around during the storm. Get undercover. The storm will pass quickly for the most part, and you will soon be back in the Magic that Disney has to offer!