Things In Florida That Scare Visitors: Fact and Fancy

As a person who writes blogs and articles about Florida, I get a lot of emails about whet people like and don’t like about my state.  It may shock some of you that there are people in the USA who not only haven’t visited the Sunshine State, they are afraid to visit here.  Here are some of the major Florida fears:

Ask people from other states what they dislike about Florida and many will say “hurricanes.”  I once met a lady from Oklahoma who told me that she liked to visit Florida, but not in the hurricane season.  It scared her.  I should have asked her how many days does she have to get ready when a tornado appears on the Tulsa radar screen.  Most Floridians know that living next to the beach may mean packing up the automobile and hoping your house is still standing when you return, but I find that safer than living on a California earthquake fault.


This Is Hurricane Fran

Hurricanes have always played a big part in Florida history.  Oddly most people associate hurricanes with Florida’s summer months, but Florida’s biggest storms have come in September. In 2004 four major hurricanes hit Florida: Charley (Punta Gorda August 13); Frances (Stuart September 5), Ivan (Pensacola September 5) and Jeanne (Stuart again September 25).  The routes of Frances and Charley would cross at a point along US27 at Avon Park.  I drove past and could see all the trees bent one way on one side of the highway and bent the opposite way on the other side.

High Humidity:  Visitors always tell me they couldn’t live in Florida in the summer because of our high humidity.  We don’t hide the fact that Florida has a humid subtropical climate.  Appropriately, a Florida doctor John Gorrie is noted as the first inventor of air conditioning way back in the 1851.  The good news is that when there is sweltering summer heat we head to our oceans, lakes, and rivers with nice breezes.


Of America’s big cities,  Jacksonville (74.3% average humidity) ranks second to New Orleans in average humidity with Orlando 4th (74.1), Tampa 5th (74.1), and Miami 8th (73.2).  Gainesville (74.4%) is our most humid city but it ranks only 67th of all US cities with 50,000 or more people.  It should be noted that when there is a huge national heat wave it is people in the slums of New York, Chicago, and Detroit who are dying.  Floridians have fans if they have no air conditioning.

Sharks:  Florida is the “shark bite” capital of the world, but globally there are only 98 shark attacks reported each year with an average of six fatalities.  We humans kill between 30 and 100 million sharks per year so it is a good thing no shark is reading this book.  Florida has more shark attacks than California and Australia for we have relative warmer water and swimmers in huge numbers all year around.


I Suggest You Avoid Doing This

          You are 132 times more likely to drown on a Florida beach than tangle with a Florida shark.  Heck – you are 391 times more likely to be killed in a Florida boating accident.  But if you really want to lower the odds of meeting a Florida shark, here are some pointers: don’t surf or swim out to sandbars. Avoid murky waters.   As a resident of Tampa, I suggest you go to the Gulf of Mexico since the shark attacks since 1882 favor Atlantic Ocean beaches 10 to 1 in shark attacks over the Gulf.

Alligators:   Gators are twice as likely to eat you in Florida than sharks.  The death of a two year old boy at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World created global headlines.  A “Do Not Swim” sign clearly did not concern a family from gator-less Nebraska, but most Floridians know male alligators during mating season from April to June are more aggressive, will roam across golf courses let alone vacation parks, hunt at night for food, and even ignore their natural fear of humans.   There are more shark attacks per year than gator attacks in Florida, but a gator attack is slightly more likely to result in death.  A gator bite is almost twice as strong as the bite of a great white shark.   Fortunately 95% of those attacked escape or at least that are the odds of the people we know were attacked.


Floridians Usually Laugh At These Dumb Posed Cards But …

          Considering the fact Florida has 20 million people and 1.25 million alligators, it may shock you there have been just 24 alligator deaths since 1973.  Most years incidents of gator bites number less than a dozen.   To improve these odds, I highly recommend: never feed any alligators, never swim at night in any freshwater Florida lake or river, and never wander off a swampy trail into tall grass.  Few alligators have practiced jumping up at people in trees like alligators at Florida gator zoos, but alligators can move faster than you for thirty yards.

Coral Snakes and Rattlesnakes:  Florida is a warm place so it is home to lots of not nice snakes.  In the last five years there were 42 snake bites in populous Southeast Florida – 21 by water moccasins, 11 from coral snakes, 3 from pigmy rattlesnakes, 2 from eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and 5 unknown.  No one died. Most were camping or fishing in the Everglades.  When I looked up the number of people who died of snakebites in the United States, I discovered there were no coral snake deaths or Florida deaths in the last ten years and all the deaths were by rattlesnakes, mostly in rural areas of the Western United States.  It was then that I realized Florida is quite urban and access to a hospital with anti-snake venom explains why few people will die of snake bites in Florida.  I have never seen a coral snake or a rattlesnake except in a cage in fifty years.

There are some things you should fear more than the above:

Lightning Now here is a Florida danger that tourists forget.  Central Florida between Tampa and Daytona Beach is the “lightning capital of the USA.”  Lightning is more fatal than hurricanes since we now can predict the latter days before the storm’s arrival. Since 1953 hurricanes have killed 216 people in Florida, but lightning has killed 468 people.  82% of all those struck by lighting are male because golf, fishing, and boating are the major activities of people while getting hit by lightning.  What makes lighting so dangerous in Florida is that it often precedes the arrival of rain by several miles.  If you see a dark cloud coming toward you in the distance, get out of the water or the open field and head for cover.

FLORIDATRAVELER lightning at disney

Bad Bugs:  People who fear bugs are not likely to love Florida.  There is a reason that some bug men here drive a Lexus.  Visitors don’t want to hear about scorpions and black widow spiders.  We have three of the former and two types of the latter.  Florida scorpions can not deliver a fatal sting.  The spiders are more painful.   People who leave their backyards with debris or put their garden gloves and sneakers on an open back porch are giving these little creatures a place to nap until nightfall.  I have never seen a live scorpion in my fifty plus years in Florida.

FLORIDATRAVELER mosquitoes dept of health ad

If you are on a hot Florida beach at noon and you feel a sharp bite on the back of your neck, don’t blame mosquitoes.  Those nasty long-legged uglies rarely attack in warm sunlight.  Mosquitoes are just one of three blood-sucking flies that can ruin your day.  Lousy biting midges, also known as sand flies or no-seeums do attack people, but mainly hit at dusk and dawn.  The probable bad insect in this case is the stable fly (or dog fly), a light colored house fly that likes to dive bomb people even on warm days.  If you see these guys around you, pick another spot on the beach.

For most Florida visitors, the bugs will be your biggest complaint.




About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at
This entry was posted in adventure vacation, conservation, environment, florida education, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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