Police Thursday identified the man evidently struck by lightning at a Burlington County golf course on Wednesday — in what would have been the nation’s first lightning fatality of the year — as a 70-year-old Florence Township resident.

Michael Ward was pronounced dead at the scene at the Burlington Country Club, said Westampton Township Police Lt. Brian Ferguson. Although the cause of death had not yet been disclosed, “it was evident” that Ward had been struck by lightning, Ferguson said.

“He was standing under a pretty big tree,” Ferguson said. “The bark was blown off.” He added that injuries to the body were consistent with those caused by lightning.

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A lightning flash contains about 300 million volts on average, compared with 120 volts for a household current, according to the National Weather Service.

The incident occurred on the sixth hole of the 165-acre course at 3:47 p.m., 15 minutes after the National Weather Service Office in Mount Holly, which is two miles away, issued a “special weather statement” warning of a thunderstorm in the area.

“Frequent cloud-to-ground lighning is occurring with this storm. Lightning can strike 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.”
National Weather Service Mount Holly, statement issued at 3:32 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, 2021

“Frequent cloud-to-ground lightning is occurring with this storm,” said the statement, written by meteorologist Mike Gorse. “Lightning can strike 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.”

“It was not a severe storm,” said Gorse’s colleague Jonathan O’Brien. “It was a run-of-the-mill thunderstorm.” He added, however, “that a lot of times these things go up very quickly.”

That indeed was the case Wednesday, said Ferguson, who lives in the area, as flashes preceded the rain.

Club officials declined requests for comment.

If verified, this would be the first lightning death of the year in the United States, according to the National Lightning Safety Council.

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Golf courses are particularly vulnerable, among sports activities, ranking behind only soccer for the highest numbers of lightning fatalities.

In recent years, those deaths have declined dramatically, from near 50 in 2006 and 2007, to only 17 last year. This also would be a record for the latest first occurrence of a lightning death, the safety council says.

It says that in the last 15 years, males accounted for 80% of all lightning deaths, fishermen being the most vulnerable.