Rare Lightning Strikes on California's Venice Beach Kill 1, Injure 13

By Allie Goolrick
Published: July 29, 2014

A 21-year-old man was killed and 13 people were injured after being struck by lightning on Venice Beach in Los Angeles during a freak July thunderstorm on Sunday, CBS Los Angeles reports. The storm formed so rapidly that experts said Monday it was impossible for anyone to predict a lightning strike would turn a day of carefree fun into one of terror.

Paramedics were dispatched to Ocean Front Walk on Venice Beach around 2:15 p.m after witnesses reported a tremendous crash of thunder that happened without warning. The boom rattled buildings, showered a lifeguard headquarters with sparks and caught swimmers and beach-goers on the boardwalk by surprise. 

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"All of a sudden, there was a huge explosion and everyone dropped to the ground. I thought, `Is there a bomb? Are there fireworks?' The sky got black and then it started downpouring," said Sam Solomon, a 24-year-old outdoor marketer from Los Angeles.

Along the beach, famous internationally for its jugglers, skaters, medical marijuana dealers and boardwalk preachers and hucksters, panic instantly set in. The phenomenon is so rare that lifeguards lack an emergency warning system for a lightning event. 

Photos on social media revealed a chaotic scene with numerous emergency vehicles and several patients being treated on the beach by paramedics. 

The 21-year-old was rushed unresponsive to a hospital after the strike and later died. Coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter identified him as Nick Fagnano of Los Angeles. Some witnesses said Fagnano had been in the water when the lightning hit, but authorities couldn't confirm that. 

Twelve other people, including a 15-year-old boy, were examined after they felt the effects of the lightning, ranging from anxiety to a man who needed CPR. However, not all were necessarily actually struck by lightning, said Katherine Main, a city fire spokeswoman. Nine were taken to hospitals. Most of the others were mainly shaken up and expected to recover, fire officials said.

An off-duty lifeguard who was critically injured during is said to be improving steadily.

City News Service reported Tuesday that the man, whose name was not released, remains hospitalized at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where his condition has been upgraded from critical to fair.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe says the man, in his 50s, is "making a good recovery."

The National Weather Service in Los Angeles tweeted at around the time of the strike that "cloud to ground lightning" had been reported in nearby Marina Del Rey and at the Los Angeles International Airport. "Stay indoors if you hear thunder until it passes," the Weather Service tweeted.

About hour earlier, a 57-year-old man was struck by lightning on a golf course on Catalina Island, according to CBS Los Angeles. The man was reported in stable condition.

In Redondo Beach, lightning struck a home and caught a car on fire, damaging several homes. Authorities say the thunderstorms also set at least two small brush fires on Catalina that were quickly doused. 

Storms dumped 0.14" of rain in just one hour on Sunday, which alone makes this the fourth-wettest July on record at Los Angeles International Airport, and the the wettest July there since 1992. Records at the airport began in 1944.

"Thunderstorms are uncommon at the beach in Los Angeles any time of year, but particularly in July," said senior digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen. "Rain does not often reach the California beaches in July, but in this case monsoon moisture from the deserts drifted farther west than usual, allowing some showers and thunderstorms to fire up."

Wiltgen said, "Los Angeles is known for its microclimates, but at the LAX airport location specifically, measurable rain has only fallen in 20 out of the past 71 Julys. Sunday's storm dumped as much rain in one hour as had fallen in the previous 10 Julys -- 310 days' worth of rain -- combined."

According to information compiled by NOAA, there had been 15 lightning deaths in the U.S. prior to Sunday's incident. None had been in California.

California's last lightning fatality was over a year ago, when 66-year-old Christine Ann Adrian was killed at a campground in Dardanelle. The last lightning death in Southern California was June 3, 2009, when 40-year-old Tina Marie Bond was struck under a tree while walking to a bus in Fontana.

Downtown Los Angeles measured only a trace of rain Sunday, but that tied the record rainfall for July 27 at that location.

The unusual weather comes from monsoonal moisture that's brought a line of thunderstorms to the region.

"This tragedy reminds us that we can take nothing for granted or underestimate the power of nature," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

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