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Close call with lightning strike: 'I thought I was a goner'

By Allison Finch, Accuweather.com

Ahead of some rain, Rod Murphy headed outside his home in Sebring, Fla., just south of Orlando, to turn off his sprinkler system, but little did he know he was about to get the most shocking wake-up call of his life.

As Murphy was heading back inside on Saturday, seemingly out of nowhere, lightning struck a small tree in his neighbor's yard across the street, sending chunks of red-hot earth 20 feet into the air -- enough to give him a significant jolt.

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"It wasn't raining. It was cloudy, but that was it, and then boom," Rod Murphy said in an interview with WSVN. "Only two things happen when you get hit by lightning: You die or you get knocked out. You don't know what's going to happen, and I thought I was a goner."

His wife, Denice Murphy, was still in bed when the lightning struck.

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"I was laying in bed. I heard it, a kaboom! It literally sounded like a bomb had exploded," she said.

No one was hurt, and the lightning bolt appeared to have just missed the neighbor's house. AccuWeather meteorologist and senior weather editor Jesse Ferrell said it's hard to say exactly why the lightning struck where it did in the neighbor's yard.

Sebring FL Lightning GIF

"It looks like it traveled along a straight line from left to right, maybe jumped from the tree to an irrigation or electrical line," Ferrell explained. "Lightning is always trying to find the most efficient way into the ground."

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The terrifying moment was captured on the Murphys' Ring security camera, and Denice Murphy couldn't help but laugh when she saw her husband's reaction.

"That's when we were like, 'Oh, my goodness, this is horrible and funny at the same time.' But horrible because when he walked from over there, I would have been running," she said.

This close call serves as a reminder that it doesn't have to be raining for lightning to strike. In fact, lightning can strike at least 15 miles away from a thunderstorm without any warning and can even be a "bolt from the blue," as nature demonstrated in Lutz, Fla., in 2020.

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A radar image shared by the Lightning Safety Council on Twitter showed a small storm just a few miles away from Sebring had been producing lightning within a 10-mile radius of the storm.

"Any time you can hear thunder, stay indoors," the Lightning Safety Council wrote on Twitter. "Most lightning injuries and fatalities occur when the storm is approaching or when it is leaving ... There is no safe place outdoors when lightning is in the area."

According to NOAA's 10-year average of annual lightning fatalities, 25 people are killed by lightning each year in the United States. Delayed actions, like waiting too long to get to a safe place when storms are approaching, account for many of the lightning casualties and injuries in the United States.

Even though the Ring security camera gave the Murphys a good laugh, they understand how serious the situation could have been.

"You can't mess with Mother Nature," Rod Murphy said. "Lightning is nothing to play with."

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