Perhaps you've been a parent, coach, or player at an outdoor sporting event in a similar predicament: the clouds roll in and the sky gets dark, but you have finish-game-itis. After all, it will only take a few more minutes.
Or, not wanting to appear overly cautious or paranoid, you wait for others to give the signal.
This is one situation when finishing the game, match, or inning is not worth the risk. Each year, thunderstorms produce an estimated 20 to 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the United States, each of which is a potential killer, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Some flashes strike directly under the storm where it is raining. Other times, the flashes reach away from the storm in places where people perceive the lightning threat to be low or nonexistent and catch people off guard.
About 30 people are killed by lightning each year and hundreds more are injured, some suffering devastating and permanent neurological injuries. About two-thirds of the deaths are associated with outdoor recreational activities.
The NWS recommends that outdoor recreation organizers have an established lightning safety plan and follow it every time inclement weather conditions are present.
As part of the plan, coaches or organizers should establish who will listen to the latest accurate weather forecasts prior to a sporting event. It should also be clear who will make the decision to postpone or cancel if necessary.
The lightning safety guidelines should also address the following, according to the NWS:
- Once in play, when should the activities be stopped?
The short answer: When you see lightning or hear thunder or when the skies look threatening.
- Where should participants, officials and spectators go for safety?
No place outside is safe. Substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing are ideal. Inside a hard-topped metal vehicle with its windows closed is also a good option. Small outdoor buildings, dugouts, rain shelters, sheds, pavilions, and golf carts are NOT safe places to seek shelter.
- When should activities be resumed?
A minimum of 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. Electrical charges can linger in clouds after a storm has seemingly passed.
- Who should monitor the weather and make decisions about play?
A objective person should be the designated weather and lightning monitor. This should NOT be the coach, umpire, or referee; their attenion is on the game. The lightning monitor should know the weather safety guidelines and be empowered by teams, parents, coaches, and spectators to make decisions.
- What should be done if someone is struck by lightning?
Call 9-1-1 for immediate medical attention. Victims do not carry an electrical charge. CPR or AED may be needed if the individual's breathing or heart has stopped.
The NWS webpage on lightning safety and outdoor sports activities answers these questions in more detail.
Don't make decisions on when to call the game or match based on personal experience or pressure from others. Have a game plan to stay safe when lightning strikes.
For more information on electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org .
Article courtesy of SafeElectricity.org. Photos by Valley Rural Electric Cooperative.