How close is too close?

It is that time of year when the conditions are perfect for severe storms. It is important to make sure that the conditions outside are safe for activities. In 2001, Orville and Huffines found through their research that there are an estimated 25 million cloud- to- ground lightning strikes in the US each year. This resulted almost 100 deaths and 500 injuries. Lightning related injuries most commonly occur in the spring and summer months and almost 80% of these occur from 10 am to 7pm. This is when a majority of athletic events are being contested. The most common ways that you can be struck by lightning are listed below.

A direct strike most often occurs in the head because it is the highest point of impact. Since this can result in eye and ear injuries it is suggested that individuals cover their ears while also obtaining a lightning strike position (more on this position later). The second mechanism is when individuals are touching an object that is struck by lightning allowing the current to flow through them. The third mechanism is when the individual is standing close to an object when lightning strikes and the lightning “jumps” from the object to the individual. The fourth mechanism is when the lightning current flowing in the ground radiates outward. If one of the individual’s feet is closer to the strike then the other, a step voltage is created. The fifth mechanism is blunt injuries. This is when the current causes violent muscular contractions that can throw the individual far away from the strike point.

How do you determine if participation is safe? The easiest method to use is the flash-to-bang method. This is based on the fact that light travels faster than sound. Sound travels approximately one mile in five seconds. If a thunder storm does develop, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder to estimate the distance between the lightning and you. The 30 second rule is the most common rule, meaning the thunder is heard 30 seconds after the flash of lightning meaning that the lightning is six miles away. Anything less than 6 miles away should warrant moving to a lightning safe location. Both the NCAA and NATA suggest waiting 30 minutes after the last occurrence of thunder or lightning to resume outdoor activities.

Lightning safety tips:

Check the forecast and watch the sky; Darkening skies or the wind picking up can be good indicators of a storm coming through

Use the 30/30 lightning rule; Wait 30 minutes after the last lightning strike/thunder

Use the flash to bang method to calculate approximate distance; 5 seconds = 1 mile

Find the closest shelter or have a designated area that is lightning safe; Have a designated area or shelter for people to go to when storms come.  This can be reviewed with teams during pre-season to avoid any confusion at the time of the storm

Avoid isolated trees or other tall objects; Tall objects such as trees are more subject to lightning strikes  and are therefore more dangerous to be around

Stay dry; Water is a good conductor of electricity, so do not stand in puddles

Avoid metal objects; Try not to hold, carry or stand around anything that is metal

Do not stay in a group, spread out; Since lightning is easily transferable, it is important to stay away from anything that could be stuck

If outside get into appropriate lightning safe position; Crouch into a ball with arm, legs, and head tucked into body and cover your ears if possible.

Lightning Detection Options:

Lightning Detection Options – Accuracy vs. Cost vs. Complexity

Source of Information Accuracy Cost Complexity Level
Hearing thunder Very good None Simple
TV weather channel General info. None Simple
Weather radios General info. Up to $40 ? Simple
Hand-held detectors 50-60% accurate $100 to $800 ? Somewhat complex
Professional grade system 90-95% accurate Up to $10,000 ? Somewhat complex
Subscription service 90-95% accurate Monthly fee Simple

First Aid of Lightning Strikes:

  • Call 9-1-1
  • Give first aid; monitor breathing, pulse, and level of consciousness.
  • Check for burns
    • Where they are struck and where the electricity left their body
  • Check for nervous system damage, broken bones and loss of hearing or eyesight.

Links on Lightning:


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