Sunday afternoon's freak rain and thunder along the coast included at least four lightning strikes in the surf near the pier at Venice Beach. Lifeguards and LAFD paramedics treated at least 13 people who were on the Venice Boardwalk, on the beach or in the water, including a 20-year-old man who died. At least eight people were taken to hospitals, per media reports. A County Fire chief urged anyone who was in the water when the lightning hit to seek medical care since the effects can be delayed. Many on the beach reported seeing bright flashes, feeling their hair rise and the loudest thunderclaps they had ever heard.
If this all seems a little unreal for the Los Angeles beach, that's because lightning strikes at the water line are very rare here. JPL climatologist William Patzert told the LA Times:
The West Coast has the lowest incidence of lightning strikes in the nation; the odds of being hit are 1 in 7.5 million in California compared to 1 in 600,000 in Florida, the nation's "lightning champion," he said.
He said an intense high-pressure system pulled an unusual mass of hot and moist air from Mexico and the Gulf of California to the coastal areas, creating the unstable atmospheric conditions that produced the lightning. Normally, he said, those air masses travel no farther west than the high desert and mountains.
"This was a sneak attack that took everybody by surprise," he said. "Coastal Southern California is virtually lightning-proof. Because it's so unusual, people are not sensitized to the dangers."
Patzert said the rare conditions would continue through Wednesday and advised people to follow the National Weather Service's warning: "When thunder roars, go indoors."
There were also earlier strikes out on Catalina Island, where lightning injured one man and touched off a couple of short-lived brush fires. I was in Hollywood and Griffith Park when the afternoon clouds gave up a little moisture, but in there it was just some brief rain drops and refreshing breeziness. Didn't even hear any thunder.