Storms assault South Florida with lightning, funnel clouds and hail

South Florida’s stretch of riotous weather continued its assault Monday, striking down a man in Margate with the flash bang of lightning, dropping a funnel cloud along Southern Blvd., and drenching a suburban Lake Worth neighborhood with nearly 3.5 inches of rain in an hour.

Provoked by an upper-level twist of low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico and colliding sea breezes unique to the Sunshine State, Monday’s storms also shot lightning through the roof of a 3-story building in Jupiter. The blast punched a large hole through the roof and started a blaze that firefighters kept contained to the attic.

“I don’t remember a year like this,” said Scott Lewis, who owns a West Palm Beach-based landscaping company and cautions employees to seek shelter when they hear thunder. “When it’s wet in the morning you have to wait for it to dry out to be safe to climb and then by 2 p.m. it’s blasting us.”

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The atmospheric outbursts have filled water storage areas across South Florida to overflow, and proven dangerous if caught outside.

Margate Fire Chief Dan Booker said a man was injured during a lightning strike Monday at about 11:45 a.m. at a Broward County condominium complex north of W. Atlantic Blvd. and west of U.S. 441. Booker said no one saw the man hit directly by the lightning, but just after it struck he was seen on the ground.

When paramedics arrived, the man was in cardiac arrest. He was taken to Broward Health North, where he was in serious condition Monday afternoon, Booker said. Typically, the immediate cause of death from a lightning strike is cardiac arrest.

“They were life threatening injuries,” he said. “Somebody heard the lightning and saw it, but not a direct strike.”

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Booker said the man was a landscaper. The National Weather Service in Miami said the injured man was 55-years-old and was carrying a weeding device when he was struck, not that the machine would have affected the lightning strike. While metal is a good conductor of electricity, lightning is not attracted to metal. Instead, it tends to hit taller objects, which is why standing next to a tree is a bad idea during a storm.

In May, Lake Worth resident Maria Francisco Pascual, 53, was killed by lightning when she was working in a field at C.W. Hendrix Farm along Loxahatchee Road in northern Broward County. A month earlier, Kourtney Lambert, 23, was killed when lightning struck a tree near her at the Woodpecker Mud Bog north of Lake City.

Meteorologists warn that lightning can strike from 10 miles away, meaning sunny skies when a storm is imminent are still dangerous. The rule of thumb is if thunder can be heard, go inside or find another shelter such as a hard-topped car with the windows rolled up.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“We’re a little cooler aloft, which allows some storms to get stronger,” said Larry Kelly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “You can always get hail formation with strong thunderstorms.”

A person trained by the NWS to spot and report severe weather called the Miami office at about noon Monday, noting dime-size hail at Southern Blvd. and Military Trail. At about 1 p.m. a trained spotter reported a funnel cloud at Southern Blvd. and Florida’s Turnpike.

A weather gauge near Jog Road and Hypoluxo road measured 3.49 inches of rain between 12:19 p.m. and 1:19 p.m. Monday.

“We had a storm set up over the area and three inches of rain fell pretty quickly,” Kelly said. “It just didn’t move much.”

In Jupiter, a townhome in the Abacoa neighborhood has a 4-by-4 foot hole in its roof after it was struck by lightning in the afternoon. A fire from the lightning was contained to one side of the townhouse because of a concrete wall separating the two homes, authorities said. It didn’t enter into the residences.

Neighbors in the area said they heard the lightning strike and felt it shake their house.

“I heard this hellacious boom and thought, ‘Man, that was close,” Tim Alban, a neighbor, said. “I didn’t think anything was hit until I saw the fire trucks come.”

There’s little change in the weather pattern in the near future, with thunderstorms in the daily forecast through the weekend.

VIDEO: Storms whip up waterspouts and hail in Florida Keys

But Kelly said the storms may weaken as a ridge of high pressure sets up over the southeast. A layer of Saharan air drifting west could hit Florida on Friday, which would dry out the air and reduce showers.

“We’re also monitoring a back door cold front,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

And then there is a disturbance in the southwestern Caribbean that the National Hurricane Center is giving a 20 percent chance of developing into something tropical over the next five days. The area, which was identified Monday, is associated with a tropical wave over northwestern Venezuela.

If the showers and thunderstorms strengthen to a tropical storm, it would be named Beryl.

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Palm Beach Post Staff Writer McKenna Ross contributed to this report.

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