July 2010

When Lightning Strikes

Lightning poses an enormous threat for those participating in outdoor sports and recreation event.

Lightning is the second largest killer due to storms, exceeded only by floods. Each year hundreds of people are killed or injured in lightning mishaps.

The number of lightning casualties in recreational and sports settings has risen alarmingly. One reason is both thunderstorms and outdoor events coincide at the same time - from 10 am to 7pm between late spring and early fall. July has more lightning srikes than any other month.

Here is our suggested lightning risk management strategy for outdoor events:

Monitor local weather forecasts and warnings.

Establish a chain of command that identifies who is to actively look for signs of threatening weather and make the call to remove individuals from the area.

A lightning safety announcement should be made over the public address address system with information on what to do and where to find a safe location.

Designate a shelter. The best way to avoid lightning is to take shelter. The primary choice for a safe location is any substantial, occupied building. The secondary choice is a vehicle with a metal roof and closed windows. Avoid small structures, such as picnic shelters or athletic storage sheds, trees, poles, and the highest point in the open.

Thunder always accompanies lightning. The "flash-to-bang" method should be used to estimate how far away the lightning is actually occurring. This method involves calculating the time between the time lightning is seen and thunder is heard by counting the seconds from the point at which lightning is sighted to the point at which thunder is heard. Divide this number by five to obtain the number of miles away the lightning is actually occurring. Experts say if the count is 30 or less, all should be evacuated. It does not have to be raining for lightning to strike. Lightning can strike from as far as 10 miles away from the rain band.

Postpone or suspend activities if a thunderstorm appears imminent--darkening clouds, high winds, thunder or lightning--until the storm has passed, then wait 30 minutes before returning outdoors.

Individuals caught in a lightning storm who feel their hair stand on end, skin tingle or hear crackling noises (signs of an imminent lightning strike) should assume the "lightning position" (also known as the lightning-safe position, although it still may not prevent a lightning strike); crouch on the ground, weight on the balls of your feet, feet together, head lowered, eyes closed, and ears covered. This position lowers the person's height and minimizes the area in contact with the surface of the ground. If you have any insulated objects handy, like a foam pad or soft pack of clothes, stand on them. Never lie flat on the ground.